An orphaned black bear which was injured during a Colorado wildfire has been released back into the wild after officials worked for five months to nurse the animal back to health.
The young bear was injured during the 2020 Cameron Peak Fire, which became the largest recorded wildfire in Colorado’s history after 62 days of burning.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) officials worked to treat and rehabilitate the animal for several months after the cub was found.
The bear was released back into the wild on 5 May in the mountains of Larimer County, outside of Fort Collins, CPW said in a press release.
“This bear’s drive to survive did most of the work and we just gave it a little boost,” said Kristin Cannon, Deputy Regional Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Northeast region.
“This bear went through an awful lot in its first year of life, let’s hope humans can now help keep it wild by not rewarding it with our food sources and lowering its chances of survival.”
Video footage showed the bear running off into the trees after it was released. A wildlife official banged on the metal container the bear was transported in to encourage the animal to take off.
The male cub came into the CPW’s custody after ranch owners reported the animal sleeping on their porch on 7 December, five days after firefighters finally 100 per cent contained the wildfire.
However when wildlife officials arrived, the cub was gone. They finally captured the animal on 11 December after the ranch owners reported the cub again sleeping on their porch.
The cub’s injuries included burns on its paws, sustained during the Cameron Peak Fire. His ears were also infected with frostbite, he was covered in cockleburs and severely dehydrated.
It was not clear how long the cub had been orphaned but his paw injuries appeared around a month old when he was discovered.
“This is an incredibly fortunate bear,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager Jason Duetsch. “Most wild animals don’t survive the myriad of injuries they are exposed to, let alone be found, captured and treated successfully. He definitely would not have made it through much longer. It is the smallest bear cub I have ever seen at that time of the year, which helped us make the decision to try rehabilitation.”
Veterinarians were able to treat the young cub, who is now one, and nourish him back to health.
“Since the foot injuries on this cub appeared to be healing well, and his other wounds were very treatable, we felt that with supportive care and nourishment his prognosis for recovery was very good,” veterinarian Dr Pauline Nol said.
At the time of capture, the bear weighed just 16.3lbs but has since bulked up to 93lbs by the time he was released.