GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — One of Appalachian Bear Rescue’s (ABR) bears died Friday after he appeared to develop a severe case of pneumonia, according to the rescue. Now, other bears who shared an enclosure with him have also developed a similar illness.
ABR shared in a Facebook post on Saturday, Oct. 7 that Flapjack the bear died at the organization’s facility from what appeared to be a severe case of pneumonia in both of his lungs. Flapjack was rescued in April, weighing just over 7 pounds, and got his name from where he was rescued: Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin in Sevierville.
On Tuesday, Oct. 3, one of the center’s curator’s noticed that the bear seemed to be having difficulty breathing. The following day, Flapjack was isolated from the other bears and efforts were made to encourage him to enter an acclimation pen, but Flapjack would not leave the center of his enclosure.
Then, on Friday, Oct. 6, curators and staff at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine (UTCVM) decided that Flapjack would need to be sedated with a dart so he could receive treatment.
After Flapjack was sedated, he was taken to ABR’s Release Staging Building, and UTCVM doctors intubated him to give him oxygen and help with his breathing if it was needed. Doctors took X-rays and samples. Unfortunately, ABR said the x-rays revealed that the bear had severe pneumonia in both lungs, and the doctors gave him antibiotics.
Flapjack was taken to a room in the Cub House to recover while doctors and ABR curators monitored him closely. ABR said that Flapjack stopped breathing, and despite doctors administering emergency medicine and compressions, the cub could not be resuscitated.
In sharing the news, ABR officials said they were “heartbroken” to share the news of Flapjack’s passing, but are grateful for the people who worked to save him.
“We’re grateful to the team from UTCVM, Ranger Ryan, and our dedicated Curators for trying to save Flapjack. We are indebted to you, our partners in our mission, for helping us offer our little bears the best care possible. We love them from a distance, but we love them fiercely. Rest in peace, Flapjack,” ABR wrote.
Since doctors were concerned that Flapjack’s illness might have been contagious, the other five bears that were in a pen with him were trapped, and four were taken one at a time to UTCVM for evaluation Saturday. The fifth bear, Thumper, escaped his carrier on Saturday and “took off” into an enclosure, so ABR said he was headed to UTVMC on Sunday, Oct. 8.
Of the bears that went to UTVMC on Saturday, all tested positive for severe pneumonia and ABR officials said they assumed Thumper would as well. Doctors determined from an emergency necropsy on Flapjack that there was a “single colony” bacterial infection, but they are not sure if the infection is primary or secondary to a viral or parasitic infection, ABR reported.
Each of the bears was intubated and given oxygen. Doctors collected scat, urine, blood, mucus, and throat lesion samples from the cubs. Mucus was suctioned from their lungs, and each bear was given nebulizer treatments to help break up and dry out the remaining mucus. All were given IV antibiotics and have been taken back to ABR, where they are recovering in separate spaces under observation as they continue antibiotic treatment.
According to ABR, only one of the bears, Betsy Ross, has only a single lung infected. Tamale was in the worst shape when he arrived at UTVMC, with a blood oxygen level of 65, and most of the cubs had lesions in their throats resembling strep throat, although ABR clarified that the bacteria may not be strep.
“We’ve never encountered anything like this in the 27 years of ABR’s existence. We’ve had single sick cubs arrive, but to have an infection spread so quickly through a group of healthy cubs is the stuff of nightmares. We owe it to Flapjack and all the cubs who will come after him to find out what happened and how to avoid it happening again,” ABR wrote. “We thank Dr. Knafo, Dr. Swanepoel, and their team for devoting an entire day to helping our little bears. We are lucky to have access to such expertise.”