Hooray! A black bear whose head was stuck inside a plastic jug for three long weeks was found roaming around the foothills of the Tennessee Smoky Mountains. Despite being down to half its normal weight, the bear is doing just fine.

Sightings had been reported as far back as June 28, but every time, the bear had gotten away before wildlife officials could help him.

From the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency website:

A similar trend in near captures continued over the next week-and-a-half leaving officers with only handfuls of bear hair as it repeatedly eluded their grasps. On one occasion, [wildlife officer Shelley] Hammonds even got a shot at the bear only to watch the dart sail over its back and into the ground. She became very disappointed and feared that the bear was going to suffer a slow and agonizing death.

It was a race against time! Reports starting coming in on July 16 that the bear was spotted much farther away, in an area that would have required the bear to either travel over a very steep mountainside, or completely around it.

"I was utterly amazed that it had crossed the mountain and was still alive," Hammonds said. "Its will to live gave me a lot of encouragement and made me determined to help save it."

Hammonds finally came face to face with the elusive bear in the parking lot of a pawn shop by the highway, where she shot him with a tranquilizer dart and immediately began treating him with IV fluids.

"On every level he was in a deficit," Hammonds said. "For three weeks he had not eaten, had been breathing his own breath, and the only way he must have been able to drink was by lowering his head under water and filling up the jug."

So sad! But against all odds, the bear made a full recovery and was released back into the wild. All in all, a situation handled competently and heroically by Tennessee wildlife officials — unlike an almost identical incident that occurred three years ago in Minnesota. That time, the starving bear wandered into town during a festival, and they shot it to death.

By the way — the next time you decide to bring a Costco-sized tub of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish on your camping expedition? Take the container home with you. [tn.gov, images via tn.gov]