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Oakland Zoo nurses orphaned South Lake Tahoe bear cub back to health

Nixon, an 8-month-old black bear, was transferred to the Oakland Zoo for care after wandering into a South Lake Tahoe business.|

Witnessing a bear slinking into a local business is not uncommon around the Lake Tahoe region, but locals were concerned for the well-being of an orphaned black bear cub that wandered into a business earlier this month.

The small, 8-month-old bear was demonstrably hungry and cold, presumably in search of respite after an area snowstorm, when he entered Nixon, a watch shop in South Lake Tahoe. He also showed signs of a skin infection, according to the BEAR League, a wildfire rescue group.

Biologists with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife transported Nixon to their office for examination, then contacted the Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital for further care.

Nixon weighed only 28 pounds.

“He is considered underweight,” said Isabella Linares, a marketing coordinator for the Oakland Zoo. “A male yearling would be 50-plus pounds.”

Since arriving at the zoo, Nixon has received extensive treatment, including X-rays, an ultrasound, a dermatology assessment, a dental exam and bloodwork labs.

In addition to the severe skin infection, which caused hair loss, Nixon suffered from pneumonia and an infected bone in his left foot that led to issues with walking, zoo officials said.

Nixon is receiving antibiotics, antifungal medications and special baths to soothe his skin. He’s keeping warm under a heat lamp due to his lack of fur.

Veterinarians have been feeding Nixon special “bear chow” that is a nutrient-based kibble to help him gain weight, according to the Oakland Zoo.

The zoo couldn’t say if Nixon might remain in their care after his recovery. Right now, zoo officials said, the focus is treating the cub and bringing him back to health.

“It's really touch-and-go because he's so sick. He won't be able to be released into the wild because he didn't learn the survival skills from his mother, so he'll be in captivity,” said Erin Dogan, a marketing coordinator for the Oakland Zoo.

A black bear and her two cubs currently reside at the zoo, so “we don't have the space right now for another bear, but it is possible that he stays at Oakland Zoo,” Dogan said.

“But (Nixon will) definitely live in captivity, and we would help with finding him a home with the Department of Fish and Wildlife — if it doesn't end up being at Oakland Zoo.”

Despite his ailments, Nixon is reportedly in great spirits.

“We're really hopeful that he's tough, and clearly he’s tough if he’s made it this far!” Dogan said. “He seems like he knows that he’s being helped.”

To stay up to date with Nixon’s recovery journey, visit the Oakland Zoo News page.

You can reach intern Lonnie Hayes at lonnie.hayes@pressdemocrat.com.

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