The cub lays on the operating table nearly unconscious. He’s starving and anemic. Dr. John Huckabee and Dr. Steve Johnson are preparing to do something they’ve never attempted.
“It might be a once in a lifetime thing, certainly for me,” says Dr. John, “We’ve never performed a blood transfusion on a bear before.”
Dr. John and Dr. Steve are about to start a procedure that could very well save this Black Bear cub’s life. The donor for this transfusion is another PAWS patient, a healthy yearling bear from Oregon who is scheduled for release the following week.
The donor bear has no way of knowing the life-saving role he’s playing on this day, but his gift may give the ailing cub the boost he needs to survive. Dr. John, Dr. Steve and PAWS Wildlife Veterinary Technician Jean Leonhardt have prepared the bears, and the process begins.
Just a day after the transfusion, the cub has gone from nearly unconscious to active and alert. The procedure is a success, and the cub can now continue down the road to recovery.
Over the next three months, the bear cub undergoes a miraculous transformation. He gains more than 130 pounds and becomes an impressive sub-adult bear. Housed with three other orphaned cubs, he wrestles and plays continuously.
On a sunny September morning, officers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Park Service personnel and PAWS staff are gathered at Mt. Rainier National Park. It was here that a park ranger found the cub desperate and starving. Today, this same ranger barely recognizes him.
“He looks a lot different than the last time I saw him,” says Ranger Uwe Nehring. “He looks like a healthy bear now,” he says with a grin.
A National Park Service staff member now opens the door to set the bear free. After some initial hesitation, the bear (now more than seven times his original weight) slowly steps out of the transport container. Wildlife agents and rangers give him a raucous send off with barking dogs and beanbag shells—a farewell reminder of the importance of avoiding humans.
The bear looks back once, then dashes off into the nearby forest. Home once again, he can pick up where he left off. Wild, healthy and free.
Wildlife veterinarians perform their first-ever blood transfusion on a young Black Bear to save the cub's life.