The story of 3 bears: Cubs burned in California wildfires recovering together
Three black bear cubs rescued from fires burning in Northern California are keeping each other company at a wildlife rescue and burn center in Auburn.
The three will spend the winter together as they grow old enough to be released in spring.
Until this week, the three bears were kept in separate recovery enclosures while their burns healed, Gold Country Wildlife Rescue director Sallysue Stein said. They were very lonely.
Now that the three are well enough to play, eat and sleep together, they're in the same enclosure at the rescue's wildlife center in Auburn, Stein said.
Bears get burned often during wildfires because their instinct is to climb a tree when there’s danger, said biologist Axel Hunnicutt with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in Siskiyou County.
The first of the three bears rescued, Smokey Junior, was found without his mother by firefighters in the middle of the Antelope Fire in August.
It took less than an hour for Hunnicutt to dart him because firefighters kept the hungry cub occupied with food definitely not intended for bears: A cheeseburger.
It was too late in the day to transport Smokey Jr. to a veterinary facility to treat his burned nose and paws, so the cub crashed at Hunnicutt’s home overnight — albeit in a secure cage.
“That’s one of the minor pleasures of being a biologist. Sometimes animals come home with you,” Hunnicutt said.
His wife, CDFW volunteer and veterinarian Elin Crockett, helped care for Smokey Junior. She also picked him some proper bear food: Blackberries.
Smokey was renamed "Leo" because he arrived in August, Stein said.
This summer, Gold Country Wildlife Rescue, the CDFW and UC Davis vets — part of the Wildlife Disaster Network, a coalition of vets and other professionals saving animals from this year’s history-making wildfires — also cared for fox, bobcat and other animal patients. All had burns severe enough to require the clinic’s special treatments: Tilapia fish skin to cover burns, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, special topical creams and acupuncture for pain relief.
Within a few weeks of Leo's arrival on Aug. 11, the wildlife rescue received two more black bear cub patients:
- Reggie Taylor, or RT, was rescued from the Dixie Fire near Taylorsville. He arrived on Aug. 16.
- Vinny, also rescued from the Dixie Fire, arrived on Sept. 5.
All are about 6 months old. All are male.
Bear cubs to stay until spring
The three bears will have to winter at Gold Country Wildlife Rescue, Stein said. That's because the orphaned bears need to grow up more before they can be released.
Black bears are usually born starting in January, Stein said. The infant bears stay in hibernation with their mothers.
They are usually big enough to go out with their mother by spring, when she comes out of hibernation.
Gold Country Wildlife Rescue staff started building an addition to their facility to house future rescued bears: A 50-by-150 foot enclosure with climbing structures and places to hide and play, Stein said.
Thus far, they've raised $50,000 of the $200,000 needed to build it. Stein plans to launch a fundraiser later in October.
For now, her three furry charges are "doing great," Stein said. "They’re just growing like weeds.”
Jessica Skropanic is a features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers science, arts, social issues and entertainment stories. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.