BOISE, Idaho (AP) — It's too early to tell if a black bear cub rescued from an eastern Idaho wildfire with second-degree burns on all four paws will survive, but it's looking good so far, a veterinarian said.
Jeff Rosenthal, executive director of the Idaho Humane Society, said the 4-month-old cub could be released back into the wild if the paws heal, spend its life in a bear sanctuary if the paws don't heal sufficiently, or be euthanized if the burned pads on the paws fail to heal.
"We're encouraged by what we're seeing," he said Saturday.
He said it could be a month before veterinarians know the fate of the burned bear cub they've rechristened Bernard after initially being nicknamed Boo Boo by rescuers who were working the wildfire.
"We think that it's a much more respectful name for a bear," said Rosenthal. "I know people have taken hold of Boo Boo, but we feel Bernard is a much more bear-like name."
The cub was discovered Aug. 26 clinging to a tree in the eastern Idaho backcountry recently scorched by a massive wildfire near Salmon. Efforts to find the bear's mother were unsuccessful.
Idaho Fish and Game on Friday transferred the cub to the Idaho Humane Society for continued treatment. The facility was selected, Rosenthal said, because of its ability to keep Bernard in a sanitary environment to guard against infection. The facility is also able to keep Bernard from interacting with humans, which would prevent the cub from returning to the wild if he were attracted to people.
"He seems curious about things," said Rosenthal. "He's very alert. He's shy. When you go in there to treat him he retreats back into his kennel and hides. All those are good things. We don't want a bear that's welcoming of people. Except for minimal contact he's just alone and isolated. That's always kind of a hard thing because your instinct is to provide them comfort."
He said so far Bernard has been leaving his bandages alone. If that changes it's uncertain if a type of cone sometimes used on household pets to prevent them from chewing on bandages would work on a bear.
"Bears have a pretty amazing ability to do things with their paws, and they're pretty flexible," Rosenthal said.
He said Bernard has to be anesthetized daily so his paws can be worked on and have bandages changed. But he said Bernard's burns are only to his paws, indicating he crossed a hot surface or burned them climbing a smoldering tree.
"Everything else on him appears to be entirely intact and normal," Rosenthal said. "He has an extremely good appetite. He appears to enjoy eating very much."
Rosenthal said Bernard likes fruit, apples in particular. The Idaho Humane Society is taking donations of fruit for Bernard, and is also accepting monetary donations through its Black Bear Fund set up to pay for Bernard's treatment.
Idaho Fish and Game wildlife veterinarian Mark Drew said a number of facilities offered to care for the cub, but they eventually chose the Idaho Humane Society. Drew said the cub weighed just 23 pounds when rescued.
If Bernard heals, Rosenthal said Fish and Game plan to move him to a bear rehab facility where he can interact with bear cubs his age.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.