Man Raises Motherless Bear, But When He Grows Up Hunters Come Knocking

Fate

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Suddenly, the phone rang, and he answered it. He heard the words and his heart dropped. Without a moment's hesitation, he pulled on his coat and raced out the door into the frigid Russian evening. Every minute counted -- he only hoped he wasn't too late. It was going to be a long hunting season for the Panteleyenkos.

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Ordinary Couple

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Yury and Svetlana Panteleyenko were an ordinary couple living in Russia. They had no children but still longed to have a baby to care for as their own. But Yury and Svetlana had no idea what was in store for them when they decided to adopt a rather unusual pet -- and a dangerous one, at that.

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When the Panteleyenkos got the call from a friend, it changed their lives forever. Rostislav, a close friend of Yury's, had visited a local circus with some friends and had made an unsettling discovery. But Rostislav knew one eccentric couple who might just be able to help, so he got on the phone immediately. The Panteleyenkos had expressed their interest in adopting a pet, but this particular animal was not exactly what they had in mind!

In Bad Shape

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The bear cub huddled in a corner of the circus, alone. His littermates were jostling for titbits, but this little bear cub didn't stand a chance. “We decided to feed the animals with bread, but one cub was not even allowed to approach the crumbs – he was beaten and shoved by the other cubs,” Svetlana says. “So he sat in the corner, the skinniest and most downtrodden of them all.” Then, what the cub did next melted Svetlana's heart.

In Need Of Help

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“The cub saw my husband and ran to him, stuck to his earlobe, and began to rub [himself] on him,” Svetlana says. “That's when we realized that we had to save the cub and took him with us.” -- and that's exactly what they did. But little did they know that soon hunters would be knocking on the door.

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Defenceless

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After approaching the owner of the circus, they learned the cub's tale. The little bear cub's mother had been shot by poachers, leaving him to fend for himself. Elk hunters had found him and his siblings abandoned in the woods, starving and alone. But what to do with them? The hunters then decided to take them to the circus that happened to be in town, but that proved to be an extremely misguided choice.

Heartbreaking

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The bear cubs were not thriving in their new environment, and they were not fed a biologically appropriate diet. This left them malnourished, and the little runt of the litter was faring worst of all. He was painfully thin, and his teeth had rotted from poor nutrition. The cub seemed to be deteriorating in front of their very eyes.

On The Mend

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The couple named the little cub Stepan and quickly got to work nursing him back to health. He had regular checkups at the local vet and was bottle-fed every three hours. Soon, Stepan started to show signs of improvement. But the little cub still had a long way to go, and there was another peril afoot that the Panteleyenkos hadn't anticipated.

Enormous

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Stepan blossomed into an enormous 700lb beast, and he was being fed with a whopping 55lb of fish, fruit, vegetables, and eggs per day. He was starting to become too large to stay in the couple's home, so they fashioned a large pen for him outside. But there was a nagging worry in the Panteleyenkos' minds, and one day it became a reality when they heard a knock on their door.

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At the door stood two men in hunting garb, and Yury feared the worst. Had Stepan gotten out of the pen? It was hunting season, and he feared that Stepan had escaped and was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. He looked at the pair of hunters and his heart dropped into his stomach.

Anticipating Bad News

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As the pair spoke, Yury hardly heard a word they said. They introduced themselves as Erast and Alexander, but Yury's heart was in such anguish that he could not register their names. He had grown attached to his pet bear and would be devastated if something had happened to him. His mind spun with the worst scenarios -- the worst being that Stepan had escaped and attacked a local. He was a wild animal, after all.

Old Friends

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Alexander then said something unexpected. These two were, in fact, the very ones who had taken pity and rescued Stepan from certain death in the woods. The circus had made its way back into town, and the hunters had wanted to check on the bear that they had placed in their care. Then, they were told by the circus owner that the bear was now with the Panteleyenkos, so they immediately looked up the address to see Stepan for themselves.

Reunion

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Yury breathed a sigh of relief and called Svetlana. Then they told the hunters how Stepan and his litter-mates had been ill-treated by the circus, and their guests listened, aghast. The other cubs had also been rehomed thanks to the intervention of circus-goers, who could see clearly that they were not being taken care of properly. It had been a full year since Stepan's saviors had seen him, so they were eager to meet him.

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Giant Teddybear

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Yury led the way, and when Alexander and Erast saw Stepan, they couldn't believe their eyes. The bear was colossal, dwarfing his keepers. One swipe from his powerful claws would be the end of a human -- but thankfully, Stepan was nothing but an accepting and docile bear. Svetlana then told the pair how he loved to be hugged and petted by his humans, and he even ate dinner with them at the table!

A Star

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Stepan also had a rigorous grooming schedule, and his owners tackle the mammoth task of brushing and bathing him regularly, just like they would a dog. And, with dedicated training, the bear had also become an internet and print sensation -- modeling for photoshoots and starring in blockbuster movies. He has a sweet and gentle nature and adores people -- even children.

Gentle Giant

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Now, 23 years later, the Panteleyenkos say that Stepan is more docile than ever, and they have every confidence that he would never hurt a fly. “We do not train him, but instead educate him on how to play,” says Svetlana. “For 23 years, we have not had a single case where he roared or rushed at us.”

Part Of The Family

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When Svetlana and Yury finally decided to tie the knot, it was only fitting that the bear they had raised was a part of the special day, too. Professional photographers captured the bear presiding over the marriage, and they make for breathtaking viewing. Stepan's Instagram and Twitter pages were flooded with comments. Nobody could believe how domesticated the bear had become. But the couple has received criticism, too.

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Controversy

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There has been a wave of dissent and anger over the domesticated bear, and some people have gone as far as saying that the Panteleyenkos are lying about rescuing Stepan from a circus, and say it's far more likely that he was stolen by the couple from the woods when he was a cub. But the couple resolutely believes that they are giving Stepan the best life possible.

Specialists Weigh In

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Lisa Wathne is another skeptic. She is a captive exotic animal specialist and spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States and says: “Obviously, this bear is a huge animal, he’s a wild animal, despite this couple’s claim. Having a bear live in your home is not how an animal is domesticated.”

Not Recommended

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Wanthe also added that the couple “encourage other people to think they can do the same, have bears as pets, and continue this horrible cycle of cruelty,” -- while Stepan was hand-reared and seems perfectly happy in his home, he seems to be an exception. A wild animal belongs in the wild. Hopefully, the couple wouldn't learn this the hard way.