CDFW press release: 

A yearling bear cub with burns from the Carr Fire is currently receiving veterinary care at CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Lab in Rancho Cordova. Thanks to the efforts of many individuals working together, a committed wildlife veterinary team and a unique approach to treatment, the little bear will have a chance of recovery and release back to the wild.

Her story began on Thursday, Aug. 2, when a PG&E contractor near Whiskeytown found her lying in ash, unable to walk on her burned paws. The contractor contacted Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, a CDFW-certified wildlife rehabilitation facility, and the director reached out to CDFW, which quickly mobilized a team to help. CDFW wildlife officers Warden Monty Cervelli and Lt. Peter Blake secured a path to the bear’s location, escorting Environmental Program Manager (and acting Regional Manager) Jeff Stoddard and Senior Environmental Scientist Eric Haney to her side. Haney was able to tranquilize the bear and Stoddard drove her three and a half hours to the lab for treatment.

Images of bear’s treatment from CDFW video.

“Generally speaking, an animal that has survived a fire and is walking around on its own should be left alone, but that wasn’t the case here,” Stoddard said. “In addition to her inability to stand or walk, there were active fires burning nearby, and with the burn area exceeding 125 square miles and growing, we weren’t sure there was any suitable habitat nearby to take her to.”

Over the weekend, the little bear stayed off her injured paws as much as possible, but showed signs of a healthy appetite. On Monday, Aug. 6, her injuries were assessed and treated by Dr. Jamie Peyton of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Dr. Peyton’s experimental treatment involves debriding the burned area and using sterilized tilapia (fish) skins as bandages, sutured directly over the injured tissue. 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. The complete treatment also includes application of antibiotics and pain salve, laser treatments and acupuncture for pain management.

The Carr Fire bear will be the third burned bear to ever receive this type of wound care. Two bears burned in the Thomas Fire were released after tilapia treatments in January, and appear to be doing very well (see previous Facebook post). A young mountain lion cub also treated with tilapia skins in January made a similar recovery, but was too young for re-release into the wild. He is now living at a wildlife rescue and care center in Sonoma County.

CDFW’s Dr. Deana Clifford, who is the lead wildlife vet in charge of the bear’s care, says she is optimistic about the chances of the treatment’s success. “This little bear is younger and spunkier than the two bears we treated in January, which is kind of a mixed blessing,” Dr. Clifford said. “She’s very healthy other than her burned paws, but she’s also very active, and we may find that she is more curious and takes the bandages off much faster than our previous patients did. 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.”
CDFW will provide updates on the bear’s progress in the coming weeks.

Please note that wildlife should be left alone in almost all cases. If you encounter an injured wild animal that is in obvious distress or not moving, please contact CDFW for assistance.