The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is concerned over increasing incidences of bears with rare neurological disorders showing up in residential areas. This follows an incident where a small black bear showed up at a utility building site last month in Pollock Pines in El Dorado County. The young bear was far too small, covered in ticks and looked weak; it did not exhibit normal bear behaviors, instead taking food and pets from humans.

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The incident in Pollock Pines was not the first of its kind. In the past 12 months, there have been similar encounters, with three other bears showing signs of neurological abnormalities. The bear found in Pollock Pines was diagnosed and euthanized.

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“Any time a wild animal comes into our care, the best-possible outcome is a release back to the wild,” Munk said. “That’s just not possible for these neurologically impaired bears. The second-best outcome would be a long, healthy life at a reputable zoo or wildlife sanctuary, but any inflammation of the brain is going to be significant for the individual bear and may have long-term consequences.”

bear eating apple in someone's backyard

Diagnoses of the affected bears has revealed that they suffer from a condition known as encephalitis. This condition refers to the inflammation of the brain tissue, usually caused by viral or bacterial infection. Scientists have already discovered five novel viruses that could be related to the encephalitis. However, Munk said that the team has not found the exact cause of the condition in the affected bears.

“At this point, we don’t know what causes the encephalitis so we don’t know what, if any, health risks these bears might pose to other animals,” Munk noted.

Unfortunately, diagnosed bears that have already undergone treatment are not showing signs of recovery. Munk said that even if the animals are sent to animal sanctuaries, they will become a big burden to the facilities.

“The few bears like this we have placed do not seem to fully recover, some requiring significant medical management for the life of the bear, which is a huge burden for these facilities that often operate on tight budgets,” Munk said.

+ California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Images via Kirsten Macintyre and Shelly Blair