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Boo Boo, an orphaned black bear cub who suffered burns on all four paws in an Idaho wildfire.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Boo Boo, the orphaned black bear cub that stirred a media frenzy during last summer’s wildfires, is rehabilitating nicely at a wildlife sanctuary in Idaho and is expected to be released back into the wild next summer.

Boo Boo was 4 months old when he was discovered in a tree by a fisherman on the Salmon River in Idaho last August, in an area where the 200,000-acre Mustang Complex wildfire had burned a few days earlier.

The bear’s mother was nowhere in sight, and he had second-degree burns on all four paws and was malnourished. Experts were initially doubtful about his chances of survival. He was rescued by U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game workers, who placed him in the care of Idaho state veterinarian Mark Drew.

Boo Boo’s plight drew attention from media outlets around the country, including a television station in Seattle and the Washington Post. The Idaho Humane Society was inundated with calls from people concerned about Boo Boo’s health, wanting to donate money or care for the bear.

After spending a few weeks at the Idaho Humane Society in Boise and getting treatment for his burned paws, the little cub was placed in the care of the Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary near McCall, Idaho.

Boo Boo now lives in a two-acre forested enclosure with five other orphaned bear cubs, and three other cubs are expected to join them soon.

According to Diane Evans-Mack, who is on the board of directors for the sanctuary, Boo Boo is making a full recovery.

“You wouldn’t even be able to notice that his paws were ever burnt now,” she said. “We don’t see him every day, but even when we saw him in September, two weeks after the fire, we noticed just looking at the paws that they were much better. They were still a little bit sensitive, but he was climbing trees and running around.”

The sanctuary uses trail cameras to keep track of the activity of the bears. Some of the pictures on the sanctuary’s website show Boo Boo and another of the bears playfully wrestling with each other at night.

Evans-Mack said that Boo Boo won’t go into a true hibernation like an adult bear would, but he will slow down in the winter.

“They’ll dig a space and sleep for a couple days at a time,” she said. “We’ve built some shelters up there with natural vegetation. Usually, at this age, they are with their mom, so we’ve made some manmade dens and spread a few of those around.”

Evans-Mack said that the plan is for Boo Boo to be released into the wild next June, after bear hunting season ends in Idaho.

“All our animals are eventually going to be released into the wild,” she explained. “We are going to end up holding Boo Boo through the winter, and we’ll wait until the spring bear hunting season is over because he would be a little too naive to be out there. We have a biologist that works for Fish and Game that has some spots in mind he thinks are good habitat for bears. We won’t release them all. Some of them will have radio collars, which will give us some updates and we can learn more about what these bear cubs do. That will happen in June. He’ll be pretty dang big by then.”

Right now, Boo Boo is eating a lot of fruits, greens and dry dog food.

“Dog food is actually something that helps him put on a lot of weight,” Evans-Mack explained. “We have interns that go in and use dry dog food, and that puts a lot of fat on the bears. We get donations from local markets of fruits and some greenery that they would discard anyway. We give them salmon sometimes. We could use donations of dry dog food though.”

For more information, visit snowdonwildlife.org.

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at 363-3300 or at david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.

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