Cinder is active and gaining weight
By Ann McCreary
Cinder, the bear cub who was badly burned in the Carlton Complex Fire, is moving well now on her bandaged paws after a month of treatment at a California wildlife rehabilitation center.
She’s moving so well, in fact, that she leads her caregivers on a chase around her enclosure before they can give her an immobilizing drug in order to change her bandages and treat her burned paws.
“When we go in she obviously knows we have the jab stick and what’s going to happen,” said Tom Millham of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (LTWC). “She’s getting so smart she keeps her hind end away from us. She definitely gives us a run for our money.”
A survivor of the firestorm that devastated the lower Methow Valley in mid-July, Cinder limped across charred hillsides to a French Creek home on July 31, about two weeks after the fires. She was flown to the wildlife rehabilitation center on Aug. 4.
“She is definitely making good progress,” Millham said Friday (Sept. 5).
A sure sign of her progress is her healthy appetite and steady weight gain since she arrived, Millham said.
A second-year cub, born in January 2013, Cinder weighed only 39 pounds when she was rescued at the beginning of August. A cub her age should weigh at least 80 pounds, Millham said. “She was about half the weight she should have been,” he said.
Millham suspects that Cinder may not have eaten during the two weeks between the fires and her rescue.
Putting on pounds
“The good news is that … she has put on 17 pounds in 18 days,” and weighed 61 pounds last week, Millham said. “That’s a good sign.”
All four of Cinder’s paws were badly burned in the fires, as well as her ears, muzzle and chest. Her elbows were also injured because she was essentially “walking” on them because the pads of her paws were so painful.
Her paws are bandaged and the dressings are changed every few days, and she is being given antibiotics and pain medication.
“She’s lost a number of her claws, probably half. She’s still losing them, but they will grow back,” Millham said.
“That’s one of the things we have to wait for. Her pads have to toughen up and we have to make sure her claws are strong enough to dig and climb,” Millham said.
“Our goal is that once we complete medical treatment, we’re going to try to get her back up to Washington as soon as possible. Not to be released, but to continue her rehabilitation,” he said. He said Washington wildlife officials will make arrangements to place her at a rehabilitation facility.
Until then, Cinder continues to improve under medical care and a diet of fresh trout and fruit – watermelon, peaches, nectarines, plums and grapes.
“She loves her grapes!” Millham said. “When she wakes up from being immobilized, we have them right next to her nose.”
It takes about 30 minutes for Cinder to become fully awake after being immobilized when her bandages are changed, Millham said. After gobbling her grapes, she climbs up to the platforms in her enclosure.
A special ramp was built in Cinder’s enclosure to enable her to climb with her bandaged paws. She likes to take her food up to the platforms, which are 6 feet and 9 feet high.
She especially likes the upper platform, Millham said. “It’s kind of her safe place. If anyone goes into the cage she scampers up to the platform.”
Cinder also has another habit that makes volunteers who work at the wildlife center wary of walking below her platform, Millham said. “She likes to urinate on the volunteers,” he said.
Cinder is the second burned bear cub treated at LTWC, a nonprofit organization. In July 2008 the rehabilitation center took in an 8-pound cub that had been burned in a fire in northern California. Named “Little Smokey,” the cub was released back to the wild in February 2009, Millham said.
Cinder’s journey to the rehabilitation center began July 31 when Steve Love saw her limping toward his home on French Creek, two weeks after the huge firestorm swept through the area.
The cub lay down in a grassy area, holding her burned paws in the air. Love fed her apricots and water, and called state wildlife officials.
The following morning a wildlife officer was able to catch Cinder and take her to Rich Beausoleil, bear specialist for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in Wenatchee.
Beausoleil arranged for a veterinarian to treat Cinder, and contacted the wildlife center at Lake Tahoe, which agreed to take the cub. She was flown to California in a small private plane arranged through Pilots N Paws, a network of volunteer pilots who transport animals around the country.
Millham said LTWC will work with Beausoleil when Cinder is healthy enough to return to Washington to complete her rehabilitation before returning to the wild. He estimated that Cinder will need at least a couple of months of rehabilitation before she is ready to be released.
Cinder’s story has generated international attention, Millham said. The wildlife center has been contacted by people as far away as Australia, wondering how she is doing. Regular updates on Cinder and video of the cub are available at the LTWC website, www.ltwc.org.