Wildlife Disaster Network working to help animals hurt in wildfires


SAN FRANCISCO (NewsNation Now) — The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, UC Davis, and private animal welfare organizations have formed what is called the Wildlife Disaster Network. It’s a new statewide response to help injured wild animals.

The animals are suffering from burned faces, feet, eyes, and smoke inhalation, and many were found starving or dehydrated. But the paw burns are especially damaging. The loss of skin exposes nerve endings, making it so painful the animals can’t walk.

If they can’t walk, they can’t find water, and they can’t find prey to eat and so then they start to decline. 

Such was the case with this 370-pound black bear that was found in Butte County’s North Complex Fire.

He had a minor eye injury and smoke inhalation, but the biggest concern was his burned paws. Thankfully, veterinarians now have a relatively new treatment: fish skin.

Bandages — made from fish skin — are sutured right on to the injured paw.

The idea came from doctors in Brazil who have been using tilapia skin to treat human burns. California veterinarians started using fish skin after major wildfires in the state three years ago.

Now it’s common practice.

A female mountain lion was found burned in Los Angeles County and brought to the fish and wildlife facility near Sacramento.

She weighed 86 pounds and couldn’t walk, until the fish skin was applied.

It not only provides collagen to the surface of the burn, but it also provides a protective outside surface so the raw paw pad is not in direct contact with the ground.

So far this year, California’s Wildlife Disaster Network has treated four bears and four mountain lions, in addition to foxes, coyotes, bobcats and other animals.

These mountain lion cubs are recuperating at the Oakland Zoo after they were found burned.

Not every wildlife encounter ends in success, but the injured 370-pound bear is going home. He was outfitted with a GPS collar, and taken back to the mountains. The bear could only crawl a few weeks ago, but now his burns have healed enough for him to be returned to the wild.

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