A mysterious ailment makes some black bears friendly and not afraid of humans, among other strange symptoms.
Researchers believe that the disease that appears to affect young bears about one year old is a form of encephalitis, meaning brain inflammation, according to a report from the California Fish and Wildlife Department late last month. Since 2014, a handful of bears in Nevada and California have shown signs of the condition, and last year four California bears were confirmed to have it.
“The first month I personally recovered, I was diagnosed with encephalitis in March 2018,” Ann Bryant of Bear Education Aversion Response told Live Science. “He went into a school and entered a classroom where he sat among the children, he behaved like a very friendly dog.”
Encephalitis has other serious effects on bears such as tremors, head tilt and seizures. Affected bears also tend to be severely thin. A female bear, which was observed to pick up an apple and ate it among humans in the courtyard in February, weighed only 21 kilograms when it should have weighed around 80 kilograms. It was also covered with ticks, walked awkwardly, and was eventually euthanized.
It is still unclear exactly what caused the brain inflammation. But while studying the phenomenon, scientists detected five previously unknown viruses in affected bears.
Jamie Sherman, a veterinarian from the University of California, told Davis’ One Health Institute, Sacramento Bee, that these viruses are not believed to pose any risk to humans.
Bears suffering from encephalitis typically need to be euthanized. Wildlife veterinarian Brandon Munk said in a CFDW publication that their symptoms make them unequipped to survive in the wild, and that those placed in zoos or shelters can become a “big burden” due to the lifelong medical care they will need.
However, two bears, which have presented neurological problems in recent years, managed to find new homes. Someone, now named Elinor, was brought to the Orange County Zoo. The other bear, now named Benji, who went viral after being caught on camera sniffing a snowboarder, lives in the Ramona Wildlife Center of the San Diego Humane Society. Last month Benji celebrated his third birthday there with a cake made of fruit and mashed potatoes.
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