When a wildfire strikes, humans aren't the only victims. Wild animals can be hurt too. After the Thomas fire, two injured bears and a young mountain lion were caught by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Dr. Jamie Peyton, a veterinarian with the University of California Davis was part of the team brought in to treat the animals for injuries including burned paws.
Peyton said she suspected there were more injured animals out there that hadn't been found because most animals avoid human contact when they are hurt.
"It so happened with these three animals, I think their injuries were so severe they came into areas with people and that was how they found them," Peyton explained.
Treating wild animals poses challenges. For the vets' safety and to avoid the wild creatures having too much human contact, the animals were sedated whenever they were being treated. Peyton said the team also used holistic and alternative medicine to help manage the animals' pain.
Another creative treatment solution the vets came up with was using fish skin bandages.
"When we were trying to decide what should we do, especially for the first bear that had basically no skin on her feet, we thought, let's look into some sort of protection that she could eat. Because that's a big factor. They can't have bandages that they could eat and then get an obstruction," Peyton said.
The tilapia skin the vets used has other advantages too:
- It's a strong material that will protect the animals' injured paws.
- It helps ease the pain on the burned paws once it's applied.
- It has a high amount of collagen which helps wounds heal faster.
Peyton said time was of the essence when treating the bears because the team didn't want to keep them in captivity for a long time, and when they found out one of the bears was pregnant, they wanted to make sure her cub would be born in the wild.
The bears have been released back into the wild in Southern California, and radio collars will allow them to be tracked in the future. The mountain lion was too young to be released into the wild, but Peyton said he has a new home at the Sonoma Wildlife Rescue.