2 bears - 1 pregnant - treated with fish skin to heal burns from Thomas Fire

Veterinarians used an experimental technique to help heal two female bears - one pregnant - who were badly burned in the Thomas Fire.

The two adult bears were found in Ojai in December with serious burns on their paws and they were turned over to California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials.

They created a homemade burn salve for the bears' paws and wrapped the wounds in tilapia skin which has been found to help speed the healing of wounds.

CDFW says the technique has been used successfully in Brazil on human burns, but has not been approved for use in the United States and had not been used on animal patients.

Dr. Jamie Peyton at the UC Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital worked with CDFW to develop the tilapia technique for the bears.

They also covered the tilapia skin with additional wrapping, including rice paper and corn husk to slow the amount of time before the bears would chew off the fish skin bandage.

State veterinarians used tilapia skin to help heal the paws of a bear burned in the Thomas Fire.

Calif. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Peyton also used acupuncture to help the bears with pain management.

As the animals were being treated, doctors conducted an ultrasound and discovered one of them was pregnant.

That meant they had to speed up the treatment so she could give birth in the wild.

After more than three weeks of successful treatment, CDFW officials scouted locations in the wild and used logs to build separate dens for each animal, about five miles apart. The bears were sedated and then released in the dens.

They were also outfitted with tracking collars and cameras were placed near the dens to monitor their progress.

"We're really hopeful that these novel treatments accelerated the healing for these bears and provided them the best odds of survival," said Dr. Deanna Clifford, senior wildlife veterinarian with CDFW. "It's especially good to know that we've maximized the odds of survival for the cub on the way."
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