Flying Tails: Wildlife Disaster Network

Flying Tails

(KRON) – California wildlife experts have come together to help bears, mountain lions, and other animals who are caught by the state’s devastating wildfires.

In tonight’s Flying Tails, we show you the new group they formed called the Wildlife Disaster Network and the unusual treatment to protect and save injured wildlife.

Wildfires don’t discriminate — People, property, and animals are all victims.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, UC Davis, and private animal welfare organizations have formed what is called the Wildlife Disaster Network, a new statewide response to help injured wild animals.

“Burned faces, feet, eyes, smoke inhalation, later found starving or dehydrated,” Dr. Jamie Peyton, UC Davis Veterinary Hospital, said. 

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 and eat and so then they start to decline,” Dr. Deana Clifford, California Fish and Wildlife veterinarian, said. 

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 but veterinarians now have a relatively new treatment.

“We can have our animals such as our bears go from crawling on the ground cause it’s so painful to walk literally standing up and being able to walk with these bandages. and that’s one of the most rewarding things,” Peyton said.

The bandages she’s referring to are made from fish skin and sutured right on to the injured paw. 

“We saw such an improvement with using them on other animals. We’ve done about 13 different species now and it’s made a world of difference for controlling their pain and getting them healing better and faster as well as if they get the bandages off it’s not a big deal that they eat them,” Peyton said.

The idea came from doctors in Brazil who’ve been using tilapia skin to treat human burns.

California veterinarians started using fish skin after major wildfires here three years ago.

Now it’s common practice. This female mountain lion was found burned in Los Angeles County and brought to the Fish and Wildlife Facility near Sacramento.

“I think the mountain lion has lost some weights so I think it’s clear she was stuck and suffering from those burns for a little while longer than the bear,” Clifford said.

She weighed 68 pounds and couldn’t walk.

“Then we put the prepared tilapia skin on and that provides collagen to the surface of the burn but it also provides a protective outside surface so that the raw paw pad isn’t on the ground. It’s now the fish skin that’s on the ground,” Clifford said.

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

These mountain lion cubs are recuperating at the Oakland Zoo after they were found burned but not every wildlife encounter ends in success.

“Sometimes if we think they don’t have a chance for survival we can stop their suffering and that’s really important to recognize as well,” Peyton said.

An injured 370 pound bear is going home.

Outfitted with a GPS collar, he was trucked back to the mountains. His burn injuries healed enough for him to be returned to the wild.

The bear that could only crawl a few weeks ago showed he’s ready to reclaim his domain.

“What was amazing and really inspiring is not only were we able to release them but we were able to follow them and find that the very first day our one bear walked 20 miles and they went on to live successfully back in the wild,” Peyton said.

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