INCLINE VILLAGE, NV - In a second story room at a Lake Tahoe wildlife refuge, a tiny bear cub cuddles face first into a fluffy towel placed on the floor, eyes closed, making a sort of chirping sound.
It's called "chortling" and like a kitten purring it's a happy sound.
This little cub has every reason to be happy. At 10 weeks of age, barely out of the den she was orphaned. Fortunately she was dropped off at Bear League representative Ann Bryant's home on Tahoe's west shore and taken immediately to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care where she's been recovering.
She's safe now, but those caring for her were left with a mystery. Why was she here and not with her mother?
Saturday Ann Bryant got the answer. Her phone rang. A man wanted to know how the little cub was doing.
"And I told him she was fine," says Bryant who adds she'd been getting a lot of those sorts of calls. "And then he blew me away by saying 'I'm the one who dropped her off.'"
He knew details only her rescuer would know, describing the surroundings where he'd left her in a kennel at Bryant's home, even the color of the blanket she was in.
And, he described hearing a cry, investigating and finding the cub clinging to her mother's body in the forest in the Humboldt Redwood State Park in northern California.
He says he walked around until he found cell phone service and called authorities
"And he was told it's illegal to touch that cub. So, he said 'Well, are you going to come and get her?' They said 'No and if you pick her up there will be an arrest.'"
Like Nevada, California has a law against touching or possession a wild animal. There are sound reasons for the law. It can be dangerous and it carries a stiff fine.
Still, when confronted with a crying infant in the woods, it presents a dilemma.
"It comes down to this," says Bryant who was once prosecuted herself for doing the same thing. "Do you follow the law or your values and beliefs."
So, the man made his decision. He tucked her into his jacket and took her home. On the way he stopped and bought a baby bottle and some milk.
"Cow's milk is not a good idea for a cub, but at least it was moisture," Bryant says.
The next day he did some research, located Bryant's home and made the eight hour trip.
An extraordinary effort for a man who didn't really want to share any details about himself or what he was doing when he found her.
To Bryant and others that's not important.
"I think he's a hero," says Bryant. "We've had thousands of posts on our Facebook page since we announced he'd called. People all over the world are calling him a hero, thanking him and 'god bless you' sending out prayers for him. He's very much loved and appreciated right now."
Bear advocates like Bryant and, it's likely wildlife officials, are relieved to find out where the little cub came from.
California wildlife procedures dictate a return to the wild within a 75 mile radius of where a bear came from. Without that information it was always possible the decision would have been to keep the cub in captivity for the rest of its life.
For the time being, the little bear's home will be at the wildlife care center in South Lake Tahoe. Spokesman Tom Millham says she's no longer being hand fed, but is nursing from a bottle installed in a substitute mother--a stuffed toy, in this case a large duck.
She's the only cub at the care center at the moment, but that's likely to change. Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care averages three orphaned cubs each season.
Millham says the company of others will be good for the cub, allowing her to be socialized with her own kind until next winter, when as she hibernates, she'll be returned to the redwoods to wake up next spring and renew her life in the wild.