Nation & World

How a fish helped save this mountain lion kitten burned in a California wildfire

Sterilized tilapia skin is sutured onto the lion’s paw to cover the burned tissue. Although the lion will likely eventually chew off the bandage, veterinarians hope it will stay in place long enough to speed the healing process.
Sterilized tilapia skin is sutured onto the lion’s paw to cover the burned tissue. Although the lion will likely eventually chew off the bandage, veterinarians hope it will stay in place long enough to speed the healing process.

For wild mountain lions, fish are most often prey. But for one cub burned in California’s Thomas Fire last month, fish have, in a way, become friends instead of food.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the male cub is getting some help from tilapia skin to heal his paws, which were badly burned by the fire — the largest in California’s history. In a Facebook post, officials said that veterinarians applied sterilized fish skin to the worst of the five-month-old kitten’s 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,” the post said.

The animal was captured, thin and hungry, on Dec. 22 in Santa Paula with burns on all four of his feet. Staff from UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital have worked to clean the cat’s wounds and help him heal, including suturing the fish skin to some of his paws. The kitten will eventually chew the bandage off, veterinarians said, but they hope it will help speed the healing process in the meantime.

Unfortunately, experts don’t believe the animal will be released into the wild, though he’s responding well to treatment.

“Due to the cat’s young age, (it would still be dependent on its mother in the wild), damage to its habitat and degree of medical care needed, CDFW plans to place the cat in captivity,” officials wrote.

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A close-up of the kitten’s burned paw pads. California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The massive wildfire was about 92 percent contained Thursday and had burned over 280,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. More than 1,000 structures were destroyed by the blaze, which took a serious toll on animals.

About 25 race horses were burned to death at a San Diego County training center in early December, and area animal services were caring for more than 700 displaced animals at that same time. Despite video of one man heralded as a hero for saving a wild rabbit from the flames, officials still urged people to let wild animals fend for themselves.

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