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Dr. Jeff Brourman checks on the stitches he inserted on a 3-year-old male black bear during a two-hour facial reconstruction surgery Wednesday at WestVet Emergency and Specialty Center. The bear has been in rehabilitation since being shot in the face. His nasal passage was exposed, making surgery necessary for his survival.

The patient lay sound asleep on the surgical table as if in hibernation, the pads of his upturned paws peeking out from under a blue sheet.“He’s got long claws,” said Susan Gale, a technician at WestVet Emergency & Specialty Center in Garden City.

The 150-pound black bear had surgery for a months-old gunshot wound and drew a small crowd of vet clinic onlookers Wednesday.

The nearly 3-year-old bear had been walking around with a 2-inch hole in his sinus cavity since late summer when he was shot in the face.

Dr. Jeff D. Brourman, a small-animal surgeon, performed a two-hour skin-flap procedure that closed the hole. It required 35 to 40 stitches and left a curving 6- to 8-inch track on the bear’s shaved face.

“It looks tremendous,” said Sally Maughan, founder of Garden City-based Idaho Black Bear Rehab, which is caring for the bear until it can be released into the wild. He was one of 53 bears the group took in during 2007.

The black bear’s fur was a mixture of colors, few of which were black. John Beecham, a rehab volunteer who will release the bear when he’s healed, said brown-haired black bears are common south of the Salmon River.

“Sixty-five percent are black north of the Salmon River,” said Beecham, explaining that climate and age help determine hair color. 

Beecham said the wound in the bear’s face had to be closed to prevent infections. “With that open hole, we were afraid an infection might go into his brain,” he said.

The bear was trapped near Stanley by a U.S. Fish & Wildlife official who was tipped off that the animal was near a campground. He noticed the bear’s injury and contacted Idaho Black Bear Rehab.

In late August or early September, Dr. Tim Murphy in Boise cleaned the bear’s wound and removed the shrapnel.

Brourman said the surgery was planned for the bear’s natural hibernation period when he’d be less likely to pull the stitches out. The stitches will be removed in about two weeks.

Maughan was in the operating room during the more-than-two-hour procedure Wednesday.

“He’s won everybody’s hearts – he’s just a big, old mellow bear,” she said.

– by Katy Moeller, Idaho Statesman

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