The massive wildfires in northern California have been raging for weeks, scorching over 95,000 acres so far and leaving different kinds of victims in their wake.
On Aug. 2, a Pacific Gas & Electric Company contractor spotted an injured black bear cub lying in the ash, unable to walk on her paws. She was the latest victim of the Carr Fire — and luckily, one the contractor knew he could help. The contractor called Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, a certified wildlife rehabilitation facility.
A team was quickly mobilized to rescue the cub. Officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) cleared a safe path and tranquilized the cub to carry her to safety. The cub was brought to a lab to be treated by a team of veterinarians from CDFW and the University of California, Davis.
"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," CDFW's Environmental Program Manager Jeff 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."
In order for the cub's wounds to heal properly, veterinarians determined she needed bandages made of tilapia skin and ointments.
How does tilapia skin work for treating burns?
Dr. Jamie Peyton of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital treated the cub's burned paws by applying tilapia skin over the wounds.
"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," Peyton said. "The complete treatment also includes application of antibiotics and pain salve, laser treatments and acupuncture for pain management."
The cub is the third bear in the state to be treated for burns with tilapia skin. Earlier this year after the Thomas fire, two bears and a mountain lion also received similar treatment.
"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," said CDFW’s Dr. Deana Clifford, who is the lead wildlife vet in charge of the newest bear’s care. "This little bear is younger and spunkier than the two bears we treated in January, which is kind of a mixed blessing."
Clifford is optimistic the cub will make a full recovery.