Bear cub bites students, creates rabies concerns

By Jim Salter

Associated Press

Published: Friday, May 2 2014 10:30 a.m. MDT

ST. LOUIS — Washington University students nipped by a bear cub will have to wait until the animal is euthanized and tested before learning if they'll need rabies vaccinations.

A petting zoo was allowed on campus in St. Louis this week, providing some stress relief for students during finals week. The zoo featured a variety of animals such as a baby pig and goats.

It also included a small bear cub named Boo Boo. The university said it didn't know a bear would be among the animals.

Several students held and cuddled the bear. Being a cub, it nipped at some of them, breaking skin on 14 students, university spokeswoman Susan Killenberg McGinn said Friday.

The only way to know for sure if the bear has rabies is to euthanize it and test. Rabies vaccinations will only be necessary if the bear tests positive.

"This is an extremely unfortunate situation, for our students and the bear cub," the statement read.

Results of the rabies test should be known within 48 hours of euthanasia, but McGinn wasn't sure when the animal would be put down.

The bear was born in the wild and was part of a petting zoo operated by Cindy's Zoo in Moscow Mills, Missouri. A message left Friday with owner Cindy Farmer was not returned.

McGinn said a student organization has for the past several years worked with the petting zoo to bring in animals during finals week.

"This year, without the university's prior knowledge, the petting zoo included in the experience a 2-month old bear cub," the university statement read. The cub nipped students on the arms and faces.

The university's director of Student Health Services sent an email to students on Wednesday asking those who were nipped to come forward.

"Because the bear cub is not a domestic animal, State of Missouri and local health officials cannot rule out the possibility that it carries rabies," the statement read. "The only way to confirm is to test the bear cub following euthanasia."

A website for Cindy's Zoo says the zoo can be rented. The zoo provides bottles for feeding and brushes so people can brush the animals.

"All of the animals are clean and friendly," the website says.

Students told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they were concerned about the health scare, but also upset that the bear has to be killed. One said he and other students contacted animal-rights group PETA.

PETA Director Colleen O'Brien said in a statement that petting zoo bears like Boo Boo "are doomed from the start."

"Petting zoos are disaster zones for diseases like rabies and e coli, but also deprive wild animals of everything that is natural and important to them," O'Brien said.

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