We take in thousands of animals at our wildlife rehabilitation facilities each year, but to me, the creature we took in a few weeks ago looked like no one who’d ever passed through our gates. At the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in San Diego County, California — one of the direct-care centers directly affiliated with The HSUS — we took in a female California black bear cub who had lost all of her fur.
Eve, as she was nicknamed by our staff at the wildlife center, appeared to be suffering from mange so serious, she was completely bald and had small scabs all over her body. She was found foraging for food in northern California by Good Samaritans who called the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. But for that intervention, she would have died from the cold. They brought Eve to the wildlife center even as our staff quickly prepared a recovery room and made sure we had all of the supplies ready to care for a young bear.
Although the last bear with mange they had treated was nowhere near in the state that this bear was, they knew from experience what they needed to do: like, for instance, setting up the room a little differently so as to not have a lot of obstacles or straw bedding that might cause irritation or abrasions and worsen her condition.
Over the last couple of weeks, Eve has adjusted well to her new surroundings. FFAWC staff report she is a hearty eater. She is also responding well to enrichment items and exploring her room.
I spoke to Christine Barton, director of operations at the wildlife center, about this poor bear, and how the staff at the wildlife center are working to help her recover.
Can you describe the condition Eve the bear was in when she was brought into FFAWC?
Surprisingly, she looked “good” for the severity of the mange. She was missing her fur literally everywhere; if you looked close enough, you can see a trace amount of “peach fuzz” in a few places. Her entire body (face, torso, legs, and feet) was dry and cracked and she had the last of her crusty dead infected skin — as if she has dried mud-clumps all over her. She looked like a really old, wrinkly, hairless species – yet, we estimate she is only about a year old –one of last year’s cubs. The good thing we immediately noticed is that she didn’t appear to have any secondary lesions or infected deep cracks – which are almost always the case at this stage of mange. So I don’t know if a bear’s skin is just tougher than a coyote’s or bobcat’s and it doesn’t crack open like theirs does or what, but that was a huge bonus for her, because it is generally the secondary infections that end up causing the most pain and health issues. The other bonus she had coming in was her body score. Her weight was pretty good for her size.
Have you ever seen an animal affected this adversely by mange?
We have treated a lot of animals with mange, mainly coyotes and bobcats. We have even treated another bear with mange. But we have never had an animal completely without fur, like little Eve is.
How long would Eve have lasted but for the intervention – the rescue and rehabilitation?
She was doing surprisingly well – raiding outdoor pet food and dumpsters, but it was just a matter of time before this would’ve been her demise. Even if she was able to scavenge enough scraps to survive, she would’ve lacked the nutrition she needed to properly develop and her immune system would decline and she would’ve become weaker. She eventually would’ve been attacked by another animal, captured or shot as a nuisance bear, or have died from exposure or complications due to secondary infections.
What do you think the prospects of returning her to the wild are, and what are you doing now to minimize the risk of her being accustomed to people and getting into trouble?
We have fingers crossed that she will be able to make a full recovery and be returned to the wild. Though she was beginning to scavenge in human populated areas, she was still wary and had not become comfortable with people. We are limiting her exposure to just her caregivers once a day. We do not allow volunteers, visitors, or media to see her. When she is able to move to an outdoor enclosure, she will be far away from other animals and completely out of any human activity. She will have natural resources with trees, dirt, logs, and a pool, so she will be able to forage and stay accustomed to as natural of an environment as possible – no man-made toys.
Tell us about some of the other temporary visitors at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center.
It is currently our “slow” season – oddly enough, we have three of our less-commonly-seen-in-rehab species recovering with us right now: a bald eagle, a golden eagle, and a bear, besides few other more commonly seen species.