An orphaned bear cub that suffered painful burns to her paws in a Colorado wildfire that drove people from their homes in a drought-stricken part of the state is being nursed back to health, state officials said Friday.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers believe the bear will recover well enough to be released this winter.
“When the bear was brought in, I wasn’t sure if it was going to make it,” said Michael Sirochman, a Parks and Wildlife veterinary technician. “But she’s responding very well to treatment, and by winter we believe we’ll be able to return her to the wild.”
It was an encouraging bit of news amid a disruptive and dangerous fire season in Colorado as parts of the state and the Southwest U.S. experience extreme or exceptional drought.
The wildfire that injured the cub had burned 65 square miles near Durango in the southwestern corner of the state. More than 2,000 homes were evacuated at one point, but those residents were allowed to return home.
Another wildfire in the southern part of the state destroyed an unknown number of structures and forced residents of 350 homes to evacuate, authorities said. The flames chewed through about 37 square miles (96 square kilometers) outside Fort Garland. At least three other fires were burning in Colorado on Friday.
The injured bear cub is 4 or 5 months and weighed just 10 pounds when she was rescued.
Firefighters spotted her wandering alone in a burned-over area north of Durango last week. They notified wildlife officials on June 22 because there was no sign of her mother. It’s not clear how the mother and cub became separated.
Wildlife officers found the cub in a tree and immobilized her with a tranquilizer dart and took her to a state facility.
Sirochman, the facility’s manager, said the cub’s burns were severe. She’s being treated with salve, bandages, antibiotics and pain medication, and is eating solid food and a liquid milk replacement.
She spends most of her time lying on her side to keep her weight off the painful wounds, Sirochman said.
Caretakers are minimizing their contact with the cub so she won’t become accustomed to humans, which would make it difficult for her to survive in the wild.
After she heals, she will be placed in an enclosure with four other cubs at the wildlife facility. They could be released this winter.
“We have good luck returning young bears to the wild,” Sirochman said. “We’re very strict about minimizing human contact.”
In California, two adult bears that suffered third-degree burns in a wildfire last year recovered and were released back into the wild.