All-better bear: Grizzly patient settling in at new home

Marley the grizzly bear has come a long way since she was rescued from life in a concrete pen in Georgia and transported to a refuge in Colorado, where it then grew clear that she was horribly lame and suffering from two broken elbows.

In February, Marley became one of Colorado State University’s most celebrated patients when she came to the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital for surgery to clean, repair and heal her fractured joints. Nine months later – after convalescing for many weeks indoors – Marley is fully recovered and roaming a 20-acre natural habitat at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colo., where she will live out her life in historic grizzly territory.

Last week, a CSU veterinary team visited the Wild Animal Sanctuary to check on Marley’s progress. The group found a healthy bear nosing through dry prairie grasses in a biting wind – a very different sight from the anesthetized creature on an operating table, with an open and draining wound over one badly infected broken elbow. Now, the only sign of her medical ordeal is the fur on her forelimbs: It had been shaved for surgery and has regrown with honeyed highlights.

“Marley is adapting wonderfully,” Rebecca Miceli, director of animal care at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, told the CSU team. “As she continues to grow and recognize the freedom she has here, she will flourish.”

From rescue to refuge

Marley, a rescued grizzly bear, undergoes diagnositcs at CSU's imaging unit.
Marley undergoes diagnostics in CSU’s magnetic resonance imaging unit in February. (Click to enlarge.)

Marley, a 7-year-old grizzly and Syrian brown bear mix, was rescued and transported to the Wild Animal Sanctuary along with 16 other black and grizzly bears from a tourist attraction in north Georgia. Her injuries likely were the result of a fall in her a concrete chamber.

CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital for nearly two decades has provided intensive medical care for large carnivores living at the sanctuary on the plains northeast of Denver.

“If they need any higher form of veterinary medical care, we provide that,” explained Dr. Terry Campbell, the CSU exotics veterinarian who oversaw Marley’s case.

Marley recovered at the sanctuary clinic, entertained by a flat-screen television tuned to cartoons to help her acclimate to noise. With visits and advice from CSU Equine Ambulatory and Avian, Exotic and Zoological Medicine services, Marley slowly relearned how to use her front legs and adapted to her outdoor habitat, which she shares with 10 cubs and their two mothers, who were pregnant when rescued. (The sanctuary does not breed its animals.)

“CSU has been immensely helpful,” Miceli said. “They have been a key factor in the recovery of a lot of our animals, and we couldn’t do it without their expertise and knowledge.”

Veterinarians perform surgery on Marley, a rescued grizzly bear.
A surgical team assesses the bear’s broken elbows. (Click to enlarge.)

Now Marley is acclimating to life outside, interacting with other bears and eating a diet of vegetables, fruit, grain and meat.

“Marley is more of a wallflower than a social butterfly,” Miceli told the CSU visitors. “The six youngest cubs keep her on her toes, and teach her to be playful.”

Dr. Sarah Higgins, a veterinary intern who is gaining additional exotics training at CSU, said she came to learn how to work with patients like Marley.

“When you come into an environment like this,” Higgins noted while watching Marley amble, “you have to base your examination on what you’re seeing: Marley’s interactions with us, with her environment, and with other bears. It requires a different type of problem-solving and collaboration with different veterinary specialists to correctly diagnose and treat these large carnivores.

A meaty partnership

Higgins said CSU’s partnerships with zoos and similar organizations offer a unique learning environment for her as a young veterinarian.

Marley, a rescued grizzly bear, undergoing surgery, with two veterinarians in the background.
Surgery at CSU early this year successfully repaired and healed Marley’s broken and infected forelimbs. (Click to enlarge.)

“You get a taste of everything from wing trims and vaccinations to advanced surgeries,” Higgins said. “There’s no typical day for an exotics veterinarian.”

“Partnerships like this provide students the opportunity to watch the medical care of animals beyond traditional domestic animals,” Campbell said. “Our students get a better look at the complexities and collaboration involved when working with exotic animals.”

The CSU veterinarians and sanctuary caregivers said Marley and the other bears rescued in Georgia likely will live many more years, as many as 20 in Marley’s case.

“My guess is they felt like they’ve died and gone to heaven compared to where they were before,” Campbell said.

More information about the Wild Animal Sanctuary: (303) 536-0118 or visit the WAS website.

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High-Resolution Photos

Marley, a rescued grizzly bear, looking at the camera Marley close-up A

Marley, a rescued grizzly bear, looking to the side Marley close-up B

Marley, a rescued grizzly bear, stands up on her two hind feet and stares at the sky Marley close-up C

Marley, a rescued grizzly bear, looking at the camera Marley close-up D

Marley, a rescued grizzly bear, climbing a small hill in her new habitat Marley walking

Marley, a rescued grizzly bear, looking at the camera Marley walking B