By Ann McCreary
A female bear cub that was badly burned in the Carlton Complex Fire is making a slow recovery after being flown last week to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Lake Tahoe, California.
Named “Cinder” by her rescuers, the cub is dining on fresh-caught trout and fruit at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Inc., where veterinarians are treating her burned paws.
Cinder was saved through the concern and compassion of many people, beginning with Steve Love, who cared for the bear when she limped onto his French Creek property on July 31, two weeks after wildfires swept through the valley.
Love heard his dog barking around 6 p.m. that day and when he investigated, Love saw a small bear coming up the driveway toward his house, which nearly burned in the wildfires.
“It was moving fairly slow, and looked odd. Later I noticed it couldn’t put weight on its paws,” Love said. Unable to walk on burned paw pads, the bear was limping along on its elbows.
The bear lay down in a shady, grassy area near the house, holding its paws in the air. Love took water to it, and picked apricots from a tree for her.
The bear seemed uneasy about his presence, but “accepted food and water,” Love said. “I tossed apricots to the bear. I’d get closer each time. I got within 8 feet.
“One time it made a kind of hissing noise. But then it laid back and … I could see how burned it paws were. They were pretty raw.”
The bear drank a “huge amount” of water, and ate some dog food that Love gave her as well as apricots.
“I felt like she was relaxing. She was scared on the one hand, but she knew I was helping,” he said.
The bear remained there through the night and Love said he spent about two hours near her.
At one point, Love said, he heard the cub crying while he was in the house. “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,” Love said.
Love went to the bear and sat nearby. “I tried to speak to her in a soothing way and she seemed to respond to that,” he said. “I told her that she was going to be okay, that she was going to be fine. I called her Little Bear.”
The next morning, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officer who had been called by Love arrived.
The bear had moved off and taken shelter under a horse trailer. Jason Day of WDFW said he found the bear “lying on its side with its paws up in the air.”
Because the bear was so small — only about 39 pounds — it was not safe to use a tranquilizer, so Day used a catch pole with a loop on the end to capture the bear.
She tried to escape when Day attempted to get the loop around her, but she couldn’t move fast enough.
“It crawled out from under the horse trailer and then was walking on the back of its palms and heels … like stiff legged duck-walking. I knew it was really injured because wild animals will give 110 percent to try to get away from you. But I was able to jog up beside it,” Day said.
“It fought; it’s still a wild animal,” Day said. But he was able to get her into a cage to transport her to Wenatchee.
Day took the cub to Rich Beausoleil, WDFW cougar and bear specialist. At Beausoleil’s Wenatchee office, they gave the bear an immobilizing drug and cleaned her and washed her wounds. Her chest, muzzle and ears were also burned.
Beausoleil began making phone calls to get advice. He contacted an Idaho-based black bear rehabilitation center that he’d worked with in the past. His contact there suggested medications and painkillers to help the bear, and advised him to call the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Inc. (LTWC), because that center had cared for another burned cub several years ago.
Beausoleil contacted LTWC, a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation organization, and was told the facility would take the bear if he could get it to Lake Tahoe.
“I started looking into ways to get the bear to Tahoe, to find out how much it would be. The Tahoe people knew of the group called Pilots N Paws,” Beausoleil said. Pilots N Paws is an organization of pilots who volunteer to transport rescued animals.
LTWC staff put out a call for a pilot to transport the bear, and within an hour a Seattle pilot responded that he was flying to Salt Lake City in two days, and would take the bear. Beausoleil talked with the pilot to get the dimensions of his plane to make sure the cage would fit.
“We needed a health certificate, interstate papers in order to transfer a wild animal,” Beausoleil said. “We were scrambling.”
Off to Tahoe
The next day, a Sunday, Wenatchee veterinarian Randy Heim came to Beausoleil’s office to care for the bear at no charge.
The vet “did a really good cleaning; it took hours,” because the bear’s coat was filthy, Beausoleil said. “He used his shears any place there was a burn or wound and we cleaned them.” In addition to the burn injuries, the bear’s elbows were raw from crawling on them, Beausoleil said.
On Monday morning Aug. 4, pilot Bill Inman flew to Wenatchee in his small, two-seater airplane. He had removed the passenger seat to accommodate the cage. “We used a pet porter, like you would for a large dog, and put burlap around the windows to keep the bear calm,” Beausoleil said.
“She wasn’t sedated. She kind of knew people were helping her. While she was in the cage, she just slept a lot,” he said.
Cinder arrived at the airport in Lake Tahoe in the midst of a thunder and lightning storm, said Denise Upton, animal care coordinator at LTWC.
Her caregivers say Cinder, as a second-year cub, should weigh about 80 pounds, instead of the 39 pounds she weighed when she arrived. Within the first two days she had gained four pounds, said Tom Millham, LTWC secretary/treasurer.
Millham said Cinder is old enough to have been on her own when she was caught in the fires. “It’s at this time of year that mom makes a decision whether to kick her out,” Millham said. “We’re not sure if she was with mom when the fire hit and they got separated.”
Cinder’s paws are bandaged and the dressings are changed every other day, Millham said. She is being given antibiotics and pain medication.
“As anybody who’s ever been burned knows, burns are very painful. She is able to walk but it’s painful and she’s walking very gingerly. The majority of [burn] damage is to the pads of her paws and between her toes,” Millham said.
In addition to a diet of freshly caught trout and fresh fruit, Cinder gets her medication in a mini-muffin coated with maple syrup. “She’s eating well,” said Upton.
A custom ramp has been installed in Cinder’s cage to help her climb to a loft where she sleeps. Normally bears are given logs to climb, but because of Cinder’s injuries and the bandages on her feet, the ramp is easier, Upton said.
Millham said despite all her contact with humans, Cinder is still “aggressive.” The goal, he said, is to help her recover enough to return to Washington and life in the wild.
“The healing process is there. It’s slow,” said Upton. “She’s been through the ringer, but she’s going the right direction.”
Beausoleil said he’s dealt with many orphan bear cubs in his career with WDFW. “But this is the first time I’ve ever seen a bear in this condition,” he said.
“From the landowner, to Fish and Wildlife, to the vet, to the pilot — everyone was coming together wanting to help this little bear,” Beausoleil said.
“This is just one of those things. It’s just a horrible situation with all the fires, suffering and loss we’ve experienced, and here’s a chance to do something that makes us all feel better. We can’t save them all, but when you’ve got one like this … it’s our duty.”
See more of Cinder at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Center:
These webcams show Cinder’s location as of August 14, 2014. As she recovers, Cinder will be moved to other areas and these webcams will show other animals.
Webcam 4 shows the area at the bottom of her sleeping loft with the specially built ramp.
Webcam 7 shows her sleeping loft.