An adult female black bear, wasting away with an advanced case of mange, was trapped in Kittanning Friday and euthanized after state wildlife officials determined it was the most humane way to end the animal’s suffering.
Rodney Burns, a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission in Armstrong County, said he responded to a homeowner’s report of the bear and set a trap Wednesday. The bear was seen going into and out of the trap Thursday, he said. He consulted with a game commission veterinarian who had seen photos of the bear.
“We were both pretty much convinced the bear had to be euthanized,” Mr. Burns said. “When it was in the trap, I got a really good look at it.”
The bear had lost 25 to 35 percent of his body weight, he said. There appeared to be no fat and the majority of hair was missing, he added. “The bear had no hair from its chin to its tail on the underside.”
“The bear should have been in its den,” Mr. Burns said. “[With hair missing] he can’t survive during the winter.” Mange is caused by microscopic parasitic mites, which lay eggs under the skin, causing great discomfort to the host animal. Mr. Burns said wildlife officials can treat animals with mange if the condition is caught early. After an animal is trapped and given an injection of the drug ivermectin, it can be released back into the wild.
However, this bear had no protection from the cold.
“To kick it back out into 20-degree weather wouldn't be fair … and it's still contagious,” Mr. Burns explained, adding that he could detect secondary infections in the bear’s odor. “Sometimes you have to do the humane thing.”
“The vet told me, from the pictures, what he could see was this bear would probably not survive in the summertime, with ideal conditions and treatment. And this is in wintertime, with low temperatures and a lot less food to eat. … food is scarce. It's not humane to let it struggle.”
It can also be a hazard to people and pets to let a sick bear roam, he said.
Before burying the animal, the conservation officer took samples of skin and blood to give to a Game Commission vet and biologist, in order to evaluate the type of mange.
In his 18-year career, Mr. Burns said he sees black bears with mange four to five times a year.
He’s seen proof that the ivermectin treatment works when treated bears are tagged and are later found mange-free by hunters.
The Game Commission relies on reports of wild animals appearing sick or behaving strangely, Mr. Burns said.
“We encourage people to report sick animals at any time...if people don't report it, we don't know about it.”
Jill Daly: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1596.