Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

Biting bear cub doesn’t have rabies, won’t be euthanized, University says

Despite initial concerns that it may have infected students with rabies, the bear cub brought to campus last Sunday will not be euthanized, according to a statement released by Washington University Friday afternoon.

Students were first alerted to the potential that the bear, which bit at least 14 students at the Congress of the South 40’s annual petting zoo last Sunday, might have been infected with rabies on Wednesday, by an email from Student Health Services. The University said it was unaware that the bear cub would be brought to campus.

Many students were concerned that the bear would be euthanized because a post-mortem analysis of brain tissue is typically required to conclusively diagnose rabies in an animal. A post about SHS’s email on the “Overheard at WashU” Facebook group, where the bear’s potential death was first mentioned, had 128 comments as of 5:30 p.m. on Friday evening.

The University’s statement, released at 4 p.m. on Friday, said that local and federal health officials had concluded that the bear “did not pose a rabies threat” and the students bitten were not at risk of contracting the disease.

“We are very pleased that this unfortunate situation has come to the best possible conclusion for everyone involved—our students, our community, and the bear cub,” the statement read.

Several students were upset with the University for allowing a wild animal on campus but did not feel that the bear should be killed despite the risk of rabies.

“I’ve gotten worse bites from my golden retrievers when they were puppies—the nip didn’t bother me at all. The bear wasn’t aggressive or dangerous, and I knew that by handling a wild animal I was putting myself at risk,” sophomore Kaity Shea, one of the bitten students, said. “I think I should be able to trust CS40 and the petting zoo to ensure that my life won’t be in danger for playing with an animal they brought to campus and invited me to pet, but I think it’s incredibly unfortunate and unfair for the bear to pay the price for poor decision making on the part of many individuals, myself included.”

Before it was announced that the bear would not be euthanized, some of the bitten students were displeased with the potential for the bear’s death but wanted to know for their own safety whether the bear was rabid.

“I think that it’s an unfortunate situation for the bear, but there is no one to blame. There is no alternative because everyone has to make sure that the bear doesn’t actually have rabies. I don’t believe it has rabies, but I’m glad they are making sure. I personally don’t understand the protests, but that is their own opinion,” freshman Mohamed Gabir said.

“I think [the bear’s euthanization is] a necessary action because the cost of vaccine and the time needed to administer it is more than it does for the bear to be tested. Sure, what happened to the bear is sad, but at this point there isn’t much that could be done. Sure, the company that brought it is at fault, but so is the school for allowing it, and so it’s us, the students’, fault for playing with it. And yeah, I’m slightly freaking because there is still a chance that the cub could have rabies, and I’d rather not get the vaccine,” freshman Shawn Ramchal said.

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Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878