Appalachian Bear Rescue temporarily closes visitor center as COVID-19 cases spike

Local News

TOWNSEND, Tenn. (WATE) — The Appalachian Bear Rescue Trillium Cove Visitor and Education Center will be closed for at least the month of August, due to the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in the area and around the country.

According to a social media post from the non-profit, the center will be closed for the safety of the cubs in their care. It said veterinarians don’t believe bears will catch COVID-19 in the wild because of their solitary nature, but that’s not the case for bears in captivity.

“Doctors believe a bear can contract COVID-19 from a human caretaker in some captive situations,” Dana Dodd, Executive Director of ABR, said in the post.

She said all of her staff have been vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine, and they all still wear masks around the bears. But, she said they need to take extra precautions and limit exposure as much as possible, for the safety of the bears.

“State and federal veterinarians agreed that if a single bear at ABR tests positive for COVID-19, that bear, and any other bear in residence, could not be released back to the wild population. Though this seems harsh, we can’t take a chance with the health of our bear population,” Dodd said.

Coy Blair, lead curator at ABR, said although they do try to limit human-bear interactions at ABR, it does happen at least once with every bear.

“There are times when they go to the vet, ride in cars with them, um, do bear exams and work ups, that we have to be near them,” Blair said.

Blair said there are too many unknowns regarding what might happen if they did release a bear that tested positive.

“The goal here at ABR is to get all of the cubs and yearlings back into the wild. So, you know if we were to potentially infect one of these animals with coronavirus and then send it back to the wild, what’s that going to do for the population? The wild population,” Blair said.

According to the CDC, human to animal transmission is possible, although the risk is low. However, locally, transmission from zookeeper to a tiger has been recorded.

Dodd said they are working with The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Tennessee to plan studies focused on overall bear health. ABR wants to learn as much as it can about keeping bears and staff healthy.

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