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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 10:18 am | Fair 60º


Rescued Wildlife Recovering from Thomas Fire but Habitat Loss an Ongoing Concern

Mountain lion cub gets unique treatment for burned paws, condor chick believed to be unharmed

This mountain lion cub, estimated to be about 5 months old, was rescued from the Thomas Fire near Santa Paula. All four of its paws were badly burned but the animal is undergoing experimental treatment and is expected to recover. Click to view larger
This mountain lion cub, estimated to be about 5 months old, was rescued from the Thomas Fire near Santa Paula. All four of its paws were badly burned but the animal is undergoing experimental treatment and is expected to recover. (California Department of Fish & Wildlife photo)

A mountain lion cub with burned paws and a vulnerable condor chick were among some of the Thomas Fire’s wildlife victims, but most of the rescued animals appear to be on the road to recovery.

Organizations that treat injured and ill wildlife have seen an assortment of critters since the Dec. 4 start of the 281,893-acre fire that was 92 percent contained as of Friday. The habitat loss will continue to be a concern once the blaze is extinguished, however.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife reported that the mountain lion cub with burned paws, rescued near Santa Paula, “is doing remarkably well” under the care of wildlife veterinarians.

Estimated at 5 months old, the thin kitten was found Dec. 22 in Ventura County with burn injuries to the pads of all four paws.

The captured cat was taken to the agency’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory in Rancho Cordova for treatment with consultation by Dr. Jamie Peyton, chief of integrative medicine at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

The unique treatment of the burns includes applying sterilized tilapia, or fish, skin to the injuries.

“The unusual technique — which doctors in Brazil have successfully used on human burn patients — creates a biologic bandage to protect the burn area and provides collagen to help speed healing,” Fish & Wildlife officials said Friday.

“The lion has responded well to treatment so far and is expected to recover.”

Due to the cat’s young age and the fact it would still be dependent on its mother in the wild, in addition to damage to its habitat and the degree of medical care needed, Fish & Wildlife representatives said they plan to place the animal in captivity.

Pictures of the injured cat’s rescue have been shared multiple times on social media, but it’s not the only wildlife put in peril by to the fire.

The Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network temporarily housed six raptors to assist another organization during the wildfire, including two red-tailed hawks, according to Julia Parker, director of animal care.

The facility can treat all but the larger wildlife — no bears, mountain lions, elk or boars — and had been ready to help smaller animals if needed.

Wildlife rehabbers also received reports of other injured animals. One caller told the Wildlife Care Network about three apparently dazed fawns, but Parker said they likely were older deer able to survive on their own and never received further information about the animals.

Parker said a recent trip south helped drive home the extent of the damaged habitat for local wildlife.

“It’s so heartbreaking because such a large area is barren,” she said.

The “astounding” loss of habitat is expected to create pressure on the already sensitive wildlife populations that had been coping with California’s recent drought, officials say.

While some on social media shared tips for putting out water for wildlife, others warned against taking action.

Noting it’s considered a gray area, Parker said that type of assistance should be viewed as a short-term solution.

“You don’t want them to become dependent on you,” she said of the animals.

The Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network operates seven days a week and needs volunteers. Click here for an application. The organization also has a wish list for donations, Parker said.

The raging Thomas Fire also required humans to evacuate the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, home to a condor sanctuary.

While adult condors can avoid fires by flying away, nests and roosting condors can be affected, with concerns centered on a young chick.

“We are thrilled to report that biologists were able to pick up a normal signal for the chick toward the nest area,” refuge representatives posted on Facebook on Friday. “Both parents were also seen flying around the area, and although biologists have not yet gotten a visual of the chick they are very optimistic that the chick is doing OK.

“This also means that the chick most likely took her first flight and is officially the newest member of the wild free-flying condor flock. Biologists will continue to monitor the chick to make sure she is healthy and flying well, but all-in-all this is the best gift that we’ve received this holiday season!”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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