Black Bears Severely Burned in Wildfire, Veterinarians Know They Must Be Healed ASAP


The California wildfires were some of the largest and worst in American history, and caused over 100,000 human evacuations. But animals can’t quite hop in a car and drive to the other side of the state when they see fire coming their way.

Humans don’t have much warning either, but they do have much better transportation than just their feet.

Recently, a couple of burned bears were returned to the wild after weeks and months of treatment. They were found in the Los Padres National Forest, which was badly burned in the Thomas fires.

But veterinarians found quite the surprise with one of them. One of the female bears was pregnant.

Once they made this discovery, they had to work double-time to get these bears healed and returned to the wild so that the mother-to-be and her cub would not acclimate to captivity. It was entirely possible that if the cub was born in captivity, the mother would reject it due to the stressful environment.

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After reading about some techniques used in Brazil, Jamie Peyton, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at the University of California’s vet school, decided that they would use “alternative medicine” to help speed up the bears’ recovery.

Both bears had third-degree burns on all four paws, and would rarely move due to the intense pain.

Painkillers are difficult with predators because they’re dangerous to administer and anesthetizing the large animals is often too dangerous to risk.

Pain pills in food is also not entirely effective: there’s no way of knowing whether or not the animals will actually ingest the correct amount, if at all. If you’ve ever had to get your dog or cat to take a pill, you know the feeling.

“When I saw the degree of injury that she had and how much pain she was in, as a veterinarian, it just tugs at your heart,” Peyton said.

So what Peyton and her team did was graft treated tilapia skin to their paws. It’s been shown to be incredibly soothing and it’s “rich in collagen,” which promotes healing.

They then wrapped the feet in rice paper and corn husks — that way, if the bears ate them, there would be no complications like with normal cloth bandages.

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“The high collagen level in the fish skins helps with healing and acts like a matrix,” said Peyton. “It would act as protection and it was pretty inexpensive and available.”

“We made little spring rolls with their feet,” Peyton said. In addition they used acupuncture, cold-laser therapy, and various chiropractic treatments to stimulate the healing process.

“After the first time we put the bandages on, she woke up, she stood up,” Peyton said. Previously, the bear in question would continuously lie down rather than put any weight on her paws.

Who knew this kind of “alternative care” was possibly more effective and faster than standard medicinal practices? Either way, we’re happy these bears and the unborn cub are feeling better and on their way home.

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