BY JANET CAGGIANO
Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
Feb 23, 2006
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RELATED: Maymont bear tests negative
Maymont employees are mourning the death of the park’s two black bears, destroyed yesterday after one of them bit a 4-year-old boy last weekend.
The animals were sedated and given a lethal injection around midday after Maymont officials met behind closed doors for nearly three hours with representatives from the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
“It’s devastating,” said a teary Susan Allmond, senior zoologist who has cared for the bears for six years. “Part of our family is gone. I’m never going to get over it. They’ve been ripped from us.”
Both bears, ages 12 and 9, were euthanized because it was not known which one bit the boy, Maymont officials said. The child and at least one parent were apparently at the rear of the 2-acre bear exhibit Saturday when the child climbed a 4-foot wooden fence into a restricted area and approached the 10-foot chain-link fence that surrounds the bears.
“The child may have been eating an apple or had apple [scent] on his hands,” said Julia Dixon, spokeswoman for Game and Inland Fisheries. The child put his hand through the fence and was bitten.
Hours later, the child was treated and released from Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital, where doctors administered antibiotics. No stitches were required. The hospital reported the incident to the city health department, which notified the Virginia Department of Health and then Game and Inland Fisheries. Maymont was not notified until Tuesday.
“I’m not mad at the child, but I’m frustrated that it happened,” said Mark Rich, director of the Maymont Nature Center. “It could have been avoided.”
There is no rabies vaccine for bears and no rabies test that can be administered to a live animal. Brain tissue from both bears will be tested at the state lab. Should either come back positive, the city health department will notify the child’s parents and the child will undergo a series of six shots over 28 days. Without treatment, rabies is almost always fatal. In 2003, a 25-year-old Virginia man died from raccoon-related rabies, the last reported death in the state.
“Bears are low-risk for rabies, but the bottom line is it’s not no-risk,” said Bob Duncan, director of the wildlife division for Game and Inland Fisheries. Euthanizing the bears, he said, “is the necessary thing.”
Yesterday’s meeting examined alternatives, officials said. When a decision was reached, groups of employees cried as they consoled one another. State officials, too, shed a few tears.
“Our first reaction was, ‘It’s not the bear’s fault! Why should we even consider this?'” Dixon said. “But the answer is we don’t have a choice. It doesn’t matter if people are irresponsible . . . it’s a public-health decision.”
Maymont officials considered quarantining the bears, but since the incubation period for rabies is uncertain in bears, Rich said, that was not a viable option.
“It could be 45 days before the animal showed signs,” he said. “By then it would have been too late. When in doubt, you have to go with human health.”
Another option would have been to administer the rabies treatment to the child.
“Whether the child received treatment or not, we felt from a public-health standpoint we had to know whether either bear had rabies,” said Shannon Nicole Marshall, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health. “Our ultimate responsibility is to protect public health.”
That doesn’t make the decision any easier, Allmond said.
“Because of my connection to the bears, I obviously didn’t like it,” she said. “But there is nothing I could have done to prevent it. That is what is so hard. These bears knew us, and they were happy here.”
Both bears were moved to Maymont by Game and Inland Fisheries, the state department that licenses facilities to exhibit wildlife.
The younger bear came to Maymont from Goochland County in 1999 as a 2-year-old, Allmond said, and had been classified as a “nuisance” bear.
The older bear was orphaned and given to the park as a cub in 1994. When it was introduced to the public in early 1995, Maymont celebrated with Bear Family Day, and children brought their favorite stuffed bears for a Victorian Teddy Bears’ Picnic and Parade.
This is the first incident involving an animal bite at Maymont since bears were introduced 25 year ago. The park, which annually draws about 500,000 visitors, has about 700 animals, 80 of which are mammals. Officials said there are no plans at this time to add or change fencing.
“No matter how many fences you put up, you are always at risk that someone will circumvent them,” Rich said. “People need to remember these are wild animals here at Maymont. They need to be respected.”
Virginia is home to about 6,000 black bears. Most reside in the western part of the state. In the wild, black bears live five to seven years, but in captivity up to 25 years.
“This wasn’t their time,” Allmond said. “It’s such a shock to all of us. These were everybody’s bears. Everyone is going to miss them.”
Contact staff writer Janet Caggiano at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 649-6157.
Feb 24, 2006
Maymont’s two black bears did not have rabies, tests results showed this morning.
Maymont’s 2 bears killed after bite
Shannon Marshall, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said tests for both bears came back negative.
The bears were killed yesterday so that brain tissue could be tested for rabies after one of them bit a 4-year-old boy last weekend. Both bears, ages 12 and 9, were euthanized because it was not known which one bit the boy, Maymont officials said. The child and at least one parent were apparently at the rear of the 2-acre bear exhibit Saturday when the child climbed a 4-foot wooden fence into a restricted area and approached the 10-foot chain-link fence that surrounds the bears. The bite was not serious, but it did break the boy’s skin.