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Petting zoo bear cub bites Wash U students

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Update: Petting zoo bear will not be euthanized after rabies scare

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Fourteen Washington University students were bitten by a bear cub visiting the campus as part of a petting zoo.

The question is, are those students at risk of getting rabies?

For several years during finals week Washington University has allowed a petting zoo to set up in the South 40 residential area. It's always billed as a stress reliever before finals begin. This year, the zoo, unbeknownst to the university, brought along a bear cub on a leash and let students handle it.
While some students were playing with the bear he nipped their hands. Some describe it as similar to what happens when you play with a puppy. Out of an abundance of caution those students have been told the bear must be tested for rabies. This means it has to be put down and that has some of the students, including some who were nipped, upset.

Washington University released this statement about the incident to the media, "For the past several years, as a way to help relieve stress during the time around final exams, a local petting zoo provided an on-campus interaction with domesticated farm animals. This year, without prior knowledge of the university, the petting zoo included in the experience a 2-month old bear cub. About 14 students have reported that the bear cub nipped them and the bites broke through their skin, including on the arms and faces of some of the students. Because the bear cub was born in the wild, State of Missouri and local health officials cannot rule out the possibility that it carries rabies. The only way to confirm is to test the bear cub following euthanasia.

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

Our focus has been on ensuring the health, safety and well-being of our students. County and state health and agriculture officials have responsibility for determining the appropriate steps to take regarding testing the cub for rabies. Rabies is a very serious and life-threatening health risk. Based on guidance from county and state officials, and out of concern for the students, the owner of the petting zoo voluntarily surrendered the bear cub` for testing. Results of the test should be known within 48 hours. Until then, Washington University students who were bitten by the cub, with bites that broke the skin, should wait to take any further action. Rabies vaccinations only will be recommended if the cub tests positive.

The Washington University Student Health Services will keep students advised of the status."


  • Wash U Student

    WUSTL student here. No one wanted this to happen to the bear and there were hundreds of calls and emails sent to the administration asking them to please don’t do this. It had to happen by law and the schools hands are tied. Furthermore, rabies vaccines are expensive ($3000 copay) and in short supply, having this many potential rabies cases means that more needed to be ordered which takes a very long time. This poses a very serious health hazard, since rabies treatment needs to happen very quickly. Its a terrible thing, but the bear had to die so that people get the correct medical information so that they can avoid fourteen people potentially dying. Even if its an amazingly small risk I’ll pick fourteen people over a bear any day, even “a few nibbled rich kids” and even if the bear was just a baby.

    RIP Boo Boo :(

    • Brian Kenney

      Whether the Bear Cub has Rabies or not, the students should have already have received the first shot. The cost would not be to the students. The school and the Zoo should pick up the cost, so the concern of cost to the students is moot. The 14 students should be able to make the choice on getting the shots or not.

    • JOHN D

      RABIES VACCINE IN SHORT SUPPLY?! OBVIOUSLY RABIES IS NOT A BIG THREAT OR THERE WOULD BE MORE VACCINE. IN THE CONTINENTAL USA THEY CAN’T FIND VACCINE FOR 14 PEOPLE? Although less than ten human rabies fatalities occur in the United States annually, as many as 40,000 Americans receive the vaccine each year after contact with animals suspected of being rabid. An additional 18,000 people get the vaccine before exposure as a preventative measure.


      • Carmen

        NO! NO! John D, the college students are in NO way responsible for that cubs death. When a cub was placed in the petting zoo was it not reasonable to expect you could pet it? It was the idiot who placed a cub received from the wild into the petting zoo in the first place.

  • Aarthi Arunachalam

    The students are in *no way* supporting this- all of the students who were nipped have stated that they would rather get the vaccines than let the bear die. We have actually been calling both the director of CS40 at our school and the director of wildlife in Missouri begging them to spare the bear, and suggesting as the students have offered, to just have the shots administered. So, it is patently false that any ill-will towards this bear has come from students.

  • Kim

    Do you really believe this was a wild born cub?? Come on this little guy was probably purchase by the petting zoo from one of those animal auctions. MO has very lax laws regarding sale and ownership of exotic animals. This little guy was already abused by being taken away from his mother even before he was weened so the seller could make a lot of money off of him. The buyer will make money off of him until he’s no longer cute. This little guy has paid the ultimate price for being cute

  • Rayna

    I don’t understand why they don’t put the sweet bear cub under a 10-day observation before they just kill it and test it for rabies. Doesn’t rabies have to be advanced enough to be in the Bear’s saliva before it can be transmitted to a human thru a bite and wouldn’t the
    Bear die in 10 days if he had rabies in his saliva? I remember researching rabies and reading this after being bitten myself by a dog. If the bear is still alive after 10 days then no worry right?

    • Valerie W.

      Thank you Rayna, I agree. A 10 day quarantine is the usual action. Being around, handling, petting or any contact with any animal, whether wild or domestic, is inherently risky, all animals, even the best trained are unpredictable. Even if this poor bear cub was born in captivity, it is still a wild animal, though it having rabies is highly unlikely. The person who brought it should be held as accountable as your school. Just a stupid, senseless mess!

      • timotab

        Why cant the ten day observation period be used for other animals?

        Only domestic dogs, cats and ferrets have been studied enough to determine with certainty the period of viral shedding. Although this period of viral shedding may be similar for other species of animals, without more studies, there is too much uncertainty and too great of risk for error.

  • Bill Winham

    What part of CARNIVORE do you not understand? Let me lay it out for you, humans are “CARNI” for bears! Don’t you think that after the bear bit, say, 6 or 7 people, someone might have said, “Hey, something is wrong here.” Supposedly, one of the top centers for higher learning in the nation and nobody thought that this might be a bad idea? “HERE’S YOUR SIGN!”

  • Brian Kenney

    The students should have received their first shot already. If they did not then the Zoo, School and City and State would all be looking at the dollar amount over what is needed to safe guard the students. As for the bear. 3 month quarantine and it would be clear. The likelihood that it has rabies is so small that killing the animal is naive. People messed up and they are covering it up. Just to let people know….. they just don’t euthanize, they then cut off the head and send the head off to a lab where they tap into the brain. It is not pretty. I say educate the students, then allow them to make the call.

  • Cheyenne

    This makes me angry. The bear should not be put down. The bear is wild for god’s sake, that means you don’t touch it. For all we know, it could have been defending itself. I am not an animal rights activist like stupid PETA and HSUS, but this makes me angry. Just because those kids were stupid enough to touch a WILD bear does not mean it should be put down. Put it in the zoo, or better yet, release it back into the wild. It was their decision to touch the bear and they should deal with the consequences. The bear should not be put down. It’s in its nature to protect itself. Shouldn’t they have tested it or something for any diseases BEFORE they put it in the dang petting zoo? hmm? This is a horrible situation and the bear is suffering the consequences for the actions of those stupid humans.

  • Cheyenne

    with ANY petting zoo, you run the risk of being bitten. So this bear should not be put down. A dog could bite you as easily as this bear did and the dog could have rabies. We have come to the time where regular animals such as dogs are allowed to bite people and it just be “protecting” itself. This is probably what the bear was doing because if it is wild, it would feel threatened when it is approached.

  • Paula

    Humans destroy everything they touch – everything is expendable. How about keeping them away from the PUBLIC!!! IDIOTS!!!

  • steve former

    real smart Wash U. Can’t the students walk across the street to a world class Free zoo for stress relief. Geez…

  • 124sport

    The school should’ve been forced to pay for the rabies shots for the kids and the bear should’ve been left alone. Stupid students. Stupid university. Stupid petting zoom. Stupid handler.

  • Whittnie

    They do this kind of dumb Sh*t at Wustl all the time! Then, pass blame around like a hot potato. Soooo glad I don’t work there anymore.

  • Whittnie

    I agree with Steve former…..seriously, there’s zoo about a mile from campus…AND IT’S FREE!!!!
    WUSTL is world-class alright: A WORLD-CLASS EMBARRASSMENT to anyone who ever studied or worked there!!!!!!!
    flippin’ ridiculous idiots!

  • Dawn Flieger

    I think thats so wrong ….The cub was playing just like they said it was like a puppy and y let it around anyone if it hasnt had its shots now the poor bear is put down because of ignorant ppl who didnt take the right steps to make sure no one was at risk !!!!!!!

  • Tony G.

    A petting zoo.

    What are these college students? Children?

    Deal with the stress, you’ll have to anyway when you’ve left the warm surreal cocoon of higher education.

  • Grim Fandango

    It looks like the students will have to settle for a moon bounce next year, or perhaps a clown and some balloon animals.

  • billie

    why dont they give the students the shots just in case and leave the bear alone.. handling a wild animal like a pet is just asking to get bit the only person that isnt at fault is the bear… poor thing

  • Marie

    Let the Zoo keeper pay for the shots. She/he was the one whl brought the cub to the University. She/ he had not met officals know the cub would be there.

  • j

    It’s not an unfortunate situation, it’s a situation that was created by idiots, and now the bear has paid with his life.

  • heygirl

    Baby bear should not be killed…. The zoo should get a fine the school and zoo should have to pay for the vaccines. I’m confused on how 14 students were bitten? So what the first one bitten wasn’t enough for the zoo to realize the baby bear needs a muzzle?, which should have been put on in the first place…. Seems like the petting zoo does not know how to handle animal and they need lessons or the animals need a new home.. also how can they kill the baby bear for doing what comes naturally?

  • Kimber

    This is unspeakably insane!!! That is a baby that has been living in captivity, with no chance at all of having rabies. This is what comes of humans interfering with wildlife for their own amusement. Everybody who partook of this has that poor baby’s blood on their hands. I agree with Valerie W – this bear should have been quarantined if they were so concerned about something that was a virtual impossibility to begin with. What they needed was a bottle of Bactine and a couple of bandaids. This is a criminal abomination.

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