ST. LOUIS (AP) — A bear cub that nipped students at Washington University was not rabid and will not be euthanized, officials of the St. Louis school said Friday.
The university initially said the cub that was brought to campus in a petting zoo on Sunday would have to be put down so it could be tested for rabies. But the university said late Friday afternoon that county, state and federal health officials determined without euthanizing the bear that it did not pose a rabies threat. The 18 students who sustained skin-breaking bites have been notified they will not need rabies vaccinations.
"The bear cub does not have to go through any additional testing and will be spared," the university said in a statement. "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 petting zoo had been allowed on campus as a stress reliever for students during finals week. Besides the small bear, named Boo Boo, it included a variety of animals, such as goats and a baby pig. Several students held and cuddled the bear. It nipped at some of them, university spokeswoman Susan Killenberg McGinn said Friday.
The bear was born in the wild and was part of a petting zoo operated by Cindy's Zoo in Moscow Mills, Missouri. A message left Friday with owner Cindy Farmer was not returned. McGinn said a student organization has for the past several years worked with the petting zoo to bring in animals during finals week.
"This year, without the university's prior knowledge, the petting zoo included in the experience a 2-month-old bear cub," the university said in an earlier statement. The university's director of Student Health Services sent an email to students on Wednesday asking those who were nipped to come forward.
"Because the bear cub is not a domestic animal, State of Missouri and local health officials cannot rule out the possibility that it carries rabies," the initial statement read. "The only way to confirm is to test the bear cub following euthanasia."
A website for Cindy's Zoo says the zoo can be rented. "All of the animals are clean and friendly," the website says. Students told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they were concerned about the health scare, but also upset by word that the bear was to be killed. One said he and other students contacted animal-rights group PETA.
PETA Director Colleen O'Brien said in a statement that petting zoo bears like Boo Boo "are doomed from the start." Petting zoos are "disaster zones" for diseases such as rabies and E. coli but also "deprive wild animals of everything that is natural and important to them," O'Brien said.