Rescue network seeks to save, rehab California's fire-stricken wild animals
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 160 pound black bear was released into the remote forests of Northern California this week by a veterinary team. He was recently cured from debilitating burns from one of the state's devastating summer fires last month.
The adult male Bruin was the first of several four-legged burn victims to be admitted to medical treatment and successfully rehabilitated by a wildlife rescue network launched in September by two of the state's top veterinarians.
One of them, Dr. Jamie Peyton, a specialist at the University of California, Davis Campus, recalled being overwhelmed at the sight of the bear's recovery and the vitality the animal displayed as it departed from captivity on Monday.
"When we found him, he couldn't walk. He was crawling," Peyton said in an interview with Reuters the next day. "But what is amazing is we can take this animal and literally get it back on its feet in a couple of weeks."
Perhaps equally amazing is an innovative therapy given to many of the animals in the network. Tilapia fish skins, which are high in collagen, are applied over your wounds as temporary dressings to help accelerate the healing of burned tissue.
The Tilapia Association was part of caring for the network's newly liberated Ursin patient, nicknamed Barry - so named because he was injured in what is known as a bear fire and found near the town of Berry Creek by a first responder named Barry.
Severe burns to the delicate pads on the bottom of all four paws had caused him to hobble and unable to forage effectively for food and water. After recovering, he was returned to a remote area untouched by fire and abundant natural sources of food, water and shelter, about 25 miles from where he was found.
A female mountain lion rescued from the Bobcat Fire near Los Angeles with similar injuries and treated at the same facility is expected to be released in a few weeks, said Kirsten Macintyre, spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
Caregivers at the agency's Wildlife Investigations Laboratory in Rancho Cordova, Sacramento, also check the animals for signs of smoke inhalation and make sure they are well hydrated and nourished.
UNCOUNTED victims of the climate crisis
The mammals treated there are among a myriad of wildlife that has likely been injured, killed and displaced by dozens of catastrophic flames that struck California and other western states since mid-August in a wildfire season of unprecedented proportions.
These fires charred a record of more than 4 million acres of landscape, killing at least 31 people in California alone, while destroying around 9,000 homes and other buildings across the state.
Experts say the intensity and prevalence of major fires has increased steadily in recent years, fueled by bouts of scorching heat, periods of extreme drought, violent winds, and lightning storms.
Scientists have pointed out the fire weather in the region and charged fuel beds overgrown with tinder-dry grass and scrub as a consequence of climate change.
In search of an often overlooked cohort of fire victims, biologists, and veterinarians, led by Peyton of UC Davis and her CDFW counterpart Dr. Deana Clifford they have joined forces to form the Wildlife Disaster Network.
Modeled after a 25-year-old rescue network formed at UC Davis for seabirds and other marine life injured by oil spills, the organization has begun surveying some of California's major fire zones to collect data on the effects on wildlife and theirs Collect habitat.
They also plan search and rescue operations for stranded, injured animals, field triages and the transport of seriously injured wild animals to long-term rehabilitation facilities.
The new network relies on veterinarians, scientists and trained volunteers, as well as 90 state-licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers.
The CDFW laboratory began admitting fire-injured bears and mountain lions for treatment and rehab in 2017.
That year, the lab treated the Barry bear, the female mountain lion from Los Angeles County, and a 520-pound male black bear from the Zogg Fire near the northern California city of Redding.
Several other burned mammals, including a bobcat, gray fox, coyote and bear cub, found abandoned and clinging to a burned tree, have been admitted to the Gold Country Wildlife Rescue facility in Auburn, California.
Southern California's mountain lion population, already threatened by habitat fragmentation by human development, could be particularly hard hit by fires.
The network recently rescued three mountain lion kittens orphaned in the Zogg Wildfire, one with burns. You will eventually be housed in a nature reserve or zoo.
"You're barely a month old," said Clifford. "Mom didn't have enough time at all to teach them how to be a mountain lion and have the skills they need to survive in the wild."
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)
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