DURANGO, Colo. (CBS4) – An orphaned bear cub injured in the 416 Fire near Durango will get a chance to return to the wild — thanks to firefighters and Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff.
Firefighters noticed the young bear wandering alone through a burned area during the week of June 18. When, after a couple of days they didn’t see a mother bear nearby, the firefighters called CPW.
Wildlife officers responded on June 22, found the cub in a tree and immobilized it with a tranquilizer dart.
Michael Sirochman, the manager of the Frisco Creek Colorado Parks and Wildlife facility in the San Luis Valley near Del Norte said, “She has burned on all four feet toes badly.”
It’s obvious the female cub had been walking on the burned ground.
“We weren’t optimistic at first,” Matt Thorpe, area wildlife manager in Durango, said. “It probably hadn’t eaten in a couple of days, but it had survived on its own so we wanted to give it a chance.”
The bear was brought to CPW’s Frisco Creek wildlife facility near Del Norte.
“When the bear was brought in I wasn’t sure if it was going to make it,” said Michael Sirochman, manager of the Frisco Creek facility.
A medicinal salve dressing was applied to the bear’s feet, to aid in healing the burned tissue. The bear’s paws were then wrapped in multiple layers of gauze and medical bandages. After every treatment the bear is injected with antibiotics to prevent infection and given a small dose of pain medication, officials stated.
The dressing is changed every two days.
Because of the pain, Sirochman said the cub has been spending most of her time lying down with the weight off her feet.
Officials estimate that bandaging the feet will continue for up to a month.
“We are hoping month or so she will be healed and be released in fall with other bear cubs,” said Sirochman.
“She’s responding very well to treatment and by winter we believe we’ll be able to return her to the wild,” he continued.
“One concern about treating bears for injuries is that they could become habituated to humans which, in turn, can makes them unfit to return to the wild,” officials stated. “In the case of the injured cub, it must be anesthetized for every treatment. So it has what amounts to negative interactions with a person and when it wakes up from the anesthesia the human is gone.”
After the feet are healed, it will be placed in an enclosure with the four other cubs currently at the facility. The bears will grow and fatten up throughout the summer and fall.
Sirochman cautioned that an infection or some other problem could arise, but said he is very optimistic that the cub will make a complete recovery and will be returned to the wild.
“While no decisions have been made about how the bears will be released, it’s likely that after they begin to hibernate in late fall Colorado wildlife officers will build a den close to the area where the bears were found,” officials stated.
“It is hoped the cub will be rehabilitated and happily reunited in the wilderness to live a full life,” said Lauren Truitt, a spokeswoman for CPW.
How the cub became separated from its mother will never be known. Sirochman speculated that ‒ as is common with most wildlife species ‒ the mother placed the cub in a safe place but was unable to get back to the spot because of the fire.
The story of this Colorado cub is reminiscent of one found in New Mexico who became the living symbol for the famous public service campaign of Smokey the Bear. However Truitt said, “We don’t plan on creating a Smokey Jr. in Colorado.”
CBS4’s Rick Sallinger contributed to this report. He is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.