From the worst wildfire in the history of Washington State comes a heartwrenching tale of a bear cub surviving severe burns to her paws, muzzle, chest and ears. About two weeks after the wildfire started, Steve Love noticed a bear cub hobbling up his driveway as his dog barked.
The cub has been named Cinder by her rescuers and is currently receiving caring treatment at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Center (LTWC) in California, a wildlife rescue center. Black bears are naturally fearful of humans and do not ordinarily seek help from them but this bear must have been desperate.
“It was moving fairly slow, and looked odd. Later I noticed it couldn’t put weight on its paws,” Love said in Methow Valley News. The cub eventually laid down on her back in some grass on the property and raised her paws in the air. Love realized the youngster was seriously injured and tried to offer help. He brought her water to drink and picked apricots from a tree which he tossed to her.
Leary at first of human contact, the bear accepted the offerings. Love reported he at one point was able to get within eight feet of the bear cub and offered encouragement in a quiet and soothing voice. This is when he noticed the severity of Cinder’s burns. “They [paws] were pretty raw,” said Love.
Cinder stayed on Love’s property overnight and by the next morning she had moved underneath a horse trailer. Love reported hearing Cinder cry during the night. “It was a bear kind of cry. It was a very unique and interesting sound, kind of a heart-rending sound. It projected like a kind of bird song,” said Love.
Love called the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and when Jason Day responded to the call, he realized Cinder was too small to safely tranquilize. The 2-year-old bear cub should have weighed about 80 pounds but only had 39 pounds on her. So he used a catch pole and was able to get her in a cage for transport. The attempt succeeded only because Cinder was slowed down by her injuries.
Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist with WDFW, assessed Cinder’s wounds as he cleaned and dressed them. Beausoleil started networking to discover the best place for Cinder to recover. He was advised to contact LTWC because they had cared for a burned bear in the past. LTWC said yes; now all he had to do was find a way to transport Cinder the 780 miles from Wenatchee, Washington to Lake Tahoe, California.
Pilots N Paws to the Rescue
Pilots N Paws is a group of licensed pilots who own planes and volunteer to transport animals for rehoming and other reasons. Bill Inman volunteered to alter his route to a business meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah to pick up Cinder and fly her to LTWC.
Cinder was placed in a large dog kennel covered with burlap to help keep her calm. Between the stress and pain medications, Cinder slept soundly during most of the flight. Inman commented, “She kind of knew people were helping her.”
Cinder is now recuperating at LTWC. She gets dressing changes every other day and is still on antibiotics and pain medication. The pain from burns can be severe. All four of Cinder’s paws were burned badly and she injured her elbows by trying to walk on them to avoid putting pressure on her burned paws.
Cheryl Millham, Executive Director of LTWC, says they cannot be sure if Cinder was already on her own when the fire occurred. This time of year is usually when a mama bear pushes a cub her age out of the family unit.
Black bears like to sleep up high. A custom ramp was built for Cinder so she can more easily walk to her sleeping loft. Normally logs are used for climbing but due to the severity of Cinder’s injuries, the ramp makes it much safer for her.
Video cams are available to see Cinder in her new place. Webcam 4 shows the ramp and Webcam 7 shows her sleeping loft. Once Cinder heals sufficiently she will be transported back to the area near where she was found to be released back into the wild. She is still demonstrating some aggression towards humans, which is a healthy sign for her successful release.
About the Fire
The fire that Cinder was caught in is known as the Carlton Complex Fire and is the worst in Washington’s history. It has spread to 243,000 acres – almost 380 square miles—with at least 36 structures being lost, 10 of them homes. Fortunately, due to massive evacuations only one human life has been reported lost as a result of this fire. The total deaths and injuries to wildlife is yet unknown and probably incalculable.
Pets have been reported missing as well, a result of running away from danger. A Facebook page has been set up to look for lost and found animals. Some have been reunited and hopefully more will make it back to their home and humans.
All photos courtesy of LTWC Facebook page