Orphaned Lane County cougar cubs heading to new homes
By Katy Muldoon, The Oregonian
December 17, 2009, 7:44PM
For the third time this year and the second time this month, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife called the Oregon Zoo on Thursday with a request: Could the zoo accommodate an orphaned cougar? The female that arrived Thursday is sister to the cub pictured, a 10-week-old, 13-pound male.The cougar approached. The homeowner fired. And that's the short explanation for why two strikingly elegant cougar cubs, dark spots accenting their golden coats, ended up at the Oregon Zoo over the past week and a half.
Their wild-to-captive saga began Dec. 6, according to Brian Wolfer of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, when a homeowner living near the Springfield Country Club let his dogs out. The man saw a cougar emerge from the brush and stalk his dogs. He grabbed a gun. From his patio, he hollered to scare off the big cat but it kept coming.
He pulled the trigger.
When the Oregon State Police arrived, Wolfer said, they found the dead cougar 27 feet from the man's patio and determined he broke no law, legitimately defending his pets.
But police found more: a deer carcass -- one the cougar killed on the golf course and dragged into the brush 50 yards from the man's home. Up a nearby tree was a cougar cub.
Police dialed Wolfer, the state's district wildlife biologist, who arrived with a tranquilizer gun. He darted the blue-eyed cub, a male approximately 10 weeks old and 13 pounds, and shipped him to Portland's zoo.
State wildlife officials frequently collaborate with the zoo, particularly finding homes for orphaned cougars or bears.
In the wild, the cats, also called pumas or mountain lions, nurse for at least three months. Their mothers, who don't share territory with other adults, introduce them to meat at about 6 weeks old and the young spend the next year or two learning to hunt with her. An orphaned cub cannot survive in the wild.
The state's cougar population is healthy enough to sustain the loss of cubs, but "I don't think the public wants to see us euthanize a kitten," Wolfer said, "if we can place it with a top-notch, credible, accredited facility."
Cougar litters can include up to six young, though one or two is more common. Wolfer searched the area. He couldn't find others.
Five days later, a caller said they'd seen a cougar cub cross a road in the same area. Wolfer returned with a hound trained to hunt cougars, but couldn't locate the cub. He set live traps, without luck.
The biologist noticed that something kept feeding on the deer carcass, which remained where the mother cougar put it. He set up a camera, caught images of a cub dining on the deer and baited a live trap next to the carcass.
Late Wednesday or early Thursday, 10 days after losing its mother, the cub stepped into the trap.
Thursday afternoon the robust, 14 1/2-pound female cougar arrived at the zoo.
Like her brother -- and another orphaned female cub rescued near Klamath Falls in June -- this youngster will dine on bowls of formula until its ready to move to a new home.
Michelle Schireman, puma population manager for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and a keeper at the Oregon Zoo, coordinates a list of AZA-accredited zoos eager to adopt orphaned cougar cubs. Last week's is headed to the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas, and the cub that arrived Thursday will make her new home at Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, Mass.
"Everyone," Schireman said, "loves big cats."
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org