On a frigid morning in January 1974, a hibernating female bear in northern Minnesota twisted and strained in her den. Before long, she gave birth to three tiny, nearly hairless cubs and licked them clean. Each cub weighed less than a can of pop.

The temperature outside the den was minus 40. Snowdrifts over the den entrance provided some insulation from the harsh winter, but inside it was still below zero. The cubs remained warm under the mother's belly in a nest of dry grass and leaves, which she had raked in during the fall when she dug this den into a hillside. With closed eyes and some nudging from the mother, they each found a nipple to nurse, and their crying and squealing quieted for a while.

It's a remarkable feat that a mother bear can care for such tiny, helpless cubs born at the coldest time of year. She has had nothing to eat or drink for about four months before their birth, and she won't eat until she and her cubs leave the den in three months. She must provide enough milk for each cub to gain up to 10 pounds before then. To do this, she must convert her own body fat into this nutritious liquid. As her body produces milk, she'll lose half her weight.

One of the cubs that crawled out of the dark den into the bright sunlight that spring was destined to be a legend. This female cub became a legend not because she became tame and known to people, but rather just the opposite: She was shy and stayed away from people, and that helped her to live to be the oldest known wild bear in the world.

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