Saturday, February 10, 2018

New Treatment for Wildfire Victims

Of course you have heard and perhaps read about the Thomas Fire in California, one of the biggest wildfires ever to hit that state. It destroyed many homes and structures (1,063) and burned 281,893 acres; wildlife was also impacted by the fire. This inspiring story is about the human help a few animals received in recovering from their serious burn wounds.

Two female black bears and a young mountain lion were brought to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in Rancho Cordova in December for treatment. Both bears had severe, painful burns on their paws. The younger one had third degree burns on all four paws. The five month old cougar seen limping about Santa Paula, Ventura County was also brought in for treatment, too young to be released back into the wild though his wounds were healing. Veterinarians from UC Davis realized that there was no time for traditional burn treatment which requires multiple changes of bandages. The animals were not comfortable in captivity, and it was difficult to administer pain medications. One of the bears was pregnant; there was a real possibility the mother bear would reject her offspring while under stress.  In order to speed up the process of healing and return the bears to the wild, the vets turned to an innovative bandage seen used on human patients in Brazil, but never in the United States.

a bear on the mend
Tilapia (fish) skin is a biological bandage that supplies collagen, a necessary substance to repair skin.  An added benefit is that it is edible, so if a healing animal consumes the bandage as it grooms the wound site, it is harmless.  As soon as appropriate tilapia skins were located, sterilized and sutured in place, the bears stood up on their damaged paws. The bears also received acupuncture, chiropractic care, trans-cutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, and cold laser therapy. All of these integrative therapies help with pain control and enhance wound healing by increasing blood and lymphatic flow. The use of talipia skin on wild animals, a first in the US, proved to be the most effective therapy. The homes of both bears were destroyed by the fire. So CDFW built them new dens out of logs and earth in Los Padres National Forest. They were released on January 18th. Each wears a satellite collar so the department can monitor their survival. Yes, the young mountain lion ate his fish skin grafts. He will spend his life in captivity at a Sonoma County wildlife refuge.