It’s a tradition each spring around finals time at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, to allow a local petting zoo to set up on campus. The idea is that handling the animals can help alleviate the stress of final exams. This years the plan backfired when Boo Boo, a two-month-old bear cub nipped 14 students, prompting a rabies scare that, sadly, will require Boo Boo’s euthanization for rabies testing.
The students that were bitten described the bear’s bite as a “nip” not unlike the a puppy’s during play, but because some of those playful bites broke the skin health authorities are concerned.
Rabies, still a lethal virus if left untreated, is spread through the saliva of an infected person or animal. Though many don’t really think of rabies as a problem anymore, it is alive and well in the wild, and can easily spread to domesticated animals that have not gotten rabies shots, often through a bite or even a scratch.
This is not a good place for college students to be during finals: busy, stressed out and now feeling guilty about the death of a possibly innocent baby bear with whom they had a brief emotional connection. Many of the students in question would reportedly rather go through rabies treatment than see the cute little bear cub killed for testing. If Boo Boo, however, is not just teething, but is carrying rabies, it could represent a serious health hazard for anyone that has come into contact with any the petting zoo’s animals.
In their defense, university officials were not aware that the petting zoo would be bringing a bear this year, and reportedly said in a statement, ”This is an extremely unfortunate situation for our students and the bear cub.”