A baby bear injured in a wildfire north of Durango is likely to survive.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski said firefighters combating the 416 Fire, which has burned more than 41,000 acres, first spotted the baby female cub last week in the Junction Creek area, on the southwest end of the fire.
Crews saw the cub wandering around the area for a couple days, but when it became apparent her mother was nowhere to be seen, they called CPW officials to step in.
Wildlife officials found the abandoned cub hiding in a tree on June 22 and tranquilized it. A closer look showed all four of the cub’s paws had been badly burned by the fire.
“That fire was jumping around and she was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Lewandowski said. “Her feet were just cooked, and you could see she was in a lot of pain.”
The cub, born this winter, weighed about 10 to 12 pounds, typical for this time of year. She was taken to the Frisco Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Del Norte, where veterinarians decided she has a good chance of recovering.
Over the next few weeks, the cub will undergo a rehabilitation process.
Wildlife officials will place a salve on the cub’s feet that will help its paws heal. They will be wrapped in medical bandages, which provides a good amount of padding if she stands up on her burned feet. The bandages are changed about every two days.
The rehab facility is set up in a way that the cub has very little interaction with humans. The cub must be tranquilized for every treatment, so interactions with humans are restricted to times veterinarians go into her den to give her a shot.
“It’s a negative experience when the human shows up,” Lewandowski said. “Which is good because if an animal becomes too habituated to humans, sometimes it’s impossible to release it back in the wild.”
When the cub is placed back in her pen, she’ll wake up to the sight of no humans around. She will be fed with a formula that mimics her mother’s milk, supplemented with some solid food.
CPW biologists will treat the cub for the next month or so, and when she is healthy enough, she will be moved into an area with four other cubs. The hope is that when she goes into her natural state of hibernation, she will be placed in a den made by wildlife officials near where she was found so she can emerge in the spring.
It is impossible to know how the cub became separated from her mother in the first place, CPW biologists said, but the cub should fare well in the wild.
The cub has foraging instincts for plants and insects and can climb up trees to hide. And, she’ll be fed well at the rehab center, which will give her plenty of fat to emerge out of hibernation in good shape.
Collars on cubs have not worked in the past, “so they’re on their own,” Lewandowski said.
During wildfires, most animals are able to escape ahead of time. But sometimes wildlife can’t get away.
Lewandowski said CPW always tries to respond to the best of its ability when the agency receives reports of injured animals because of fire.
“We stay in touch with the Forest Service, and they know to call us,” he said.
Lewandowski said there is always the risk the cub may get an infection or some other ailment because of its injuries. But, wildlife officials are pretty confident in a full recovery.
“Of course, there could be a turn for the bear, but we’re pretty optimistic it will be OK,” he said.