Bear cub receives unique treatment for paws burned in Carr Fire - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Bear cub receives unique treatment for paws burned in Carr Fire

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(NEWS 8) — A young black bear, simply called “the Carr Fire bear” by rescuers, was treated for burns by wildlife veterinarians using a unique, experimental treatment. The cub was found last week near Crystal Creek with badly burned paws as the massive Northern California wildfire raged on.

A crew fixing damaged utility poles first located the animal and got in touch with a Lake Tahoe wildlife rehabilitation center, which in turn contacted the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"The workers said the bear was crying. We don't know if she was really crying or just being defensive," said Jeff Stoddard, a DFW environmental program manager.

Stoddard and other wildlife officials got permission to go behind the fire lines at the barricaded Whiskeytown National Recreation Area where they were able to locate the bear.

Environmental Program Manager Jeff Stoddard of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife holds the bear badly burned in the Carr Fire. 
(Photo courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Stoddard said the bear was holding her hind foot up in pain and cleaning her paws with her tongue. He thinks she either burned her paws walking in hot ash or on hot rocks. The top of one paw was singed, indicating she may have stepped directly into flames.

Because the cub couldn’t stand or walk – and the fire was still burning nearby – rescuers decided she shouldn’t be left alone.

After the bear was tranquilized, Stoddard and others carried the bear to safety and delivered her to a state wildlife lab in Rancho Cordova on Friday morning to begin treatment.

California DFW wardens and staff transport the badly burned bear to safety. 
(Photo courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife)

In order to help the bear cub heal, a veterinary team decided to use an experimental technique that has been used only a handful of times.

On Monday, an eight-member team including the DFW's Dr. Deana Clifford and Dr. Jamie Peyton of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital spent nearly six hours preparing for the operation and sewing tilapia skin onto the bear's four paws.

Vets attached the sterilized tilapia skin, scales and all, to the bear's feet with her claws sticking through. The process was previously used successfully to nurture two adult bears to health who were burned in December's Thomas Fire in Southern California.

The bear badly burned in the Carr Fire awaits treatment.
(CDFW photo by Travis VanZant)

One benefit of the fish skin — which doesn't smell fishy — is that it contains collagen that aids in healing.

"The tilapia skins provide direct, steady pressure to the wounds, keep bacteria out and stay on better and longer than any kind of regular, synthetic bandage would," Kirsten Macintyre, a spokeswoman for the California DFW said.

Being an active and curious 1-year-old, the bear cub managed to bite off one of the fish-skin bandages by Tuesday, but the vets will continue to keep a close watch on her and provide a series of treatments that's included acupuncture for pain and laser treatments.

Dr. Jamie Peyton assesses the bear's paw. (CDFW photo by Travis VanZant)

She's also getting a diet of fish, blackberries and a mix of fruits and vegetables with her medicine mixed in.

"We’ll need to monitor her closely and adjust treatment as necessary, but we’re optimistic that she’ll make a full recovery in due time,” Clifford said.

As she recovers, the bear has been angry and aggressive toward the staff, which Stoddard says is an encouraging sign that shows the bear's wild nature. "She's really unhappy when people come by," he said.

Tilapia skin is sewed to the bear's burned paw. (CDFW photo by Travis VanZant)

Officials also said they avoided naming her and wish to preserve her wild nature as opposed to treating her as a pet.

"She sure is cute. She's a beautiful creature," said Macintyre. "[We call her] just the Carr Fire bear.”

Wildlife officials say they don't want her to feel domesticated because the goal is to release her back into the forest.

"The goal is 100 percent to relocate it back into the wild," Stoddard said. "We don't want a captive animal."

Elements of this story courtesy of Redding Record Searchlight including this video highlighting the technique used on the bear cubs paws:

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