Zoo finds home for orphaned cougar cubs

Zoo finds home for orphaned cougar cubs

From the Oregon Zoo

The Oregon Zoo recently provided a temporary home for twin orphaned cougar cubs while they recuperated from malnutrition and dehydration. The cubs were transferred yesterday to their permanent home at the Western North Carolina Nature Center. According to Oregon Zoo keepers, the “cute and vocal” brothers have a close bond that has helped them recover from “a rough start to life.”

“As a conservation organization, it’s important for us to take a leadership role in finding homes for orphaned animals,” said Kim Smith, zoo director. “These guys really needed our help.”

The cubs were left without explanation at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Grants Pass, Ore., in late August. When the center alerted the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, ODFW in turn contacted Oregon Zoo keeper Michelle Schireman, who serves as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ puma population manager.

“I’m usually the first person fish and wildlife departments call when orphaned cubs must be removed from the wild,” Schireman said. “I work with accredited zoos across the country to find them new homes. Baby cougars can’t live in the wild without their mothers, so zoos offer the orphans’ only chance for survival.”

Schireman was able to quickly place the 10-week-old cubs.

“There are a lot of zoos around the country that would be thrilled to provide a home for a cougar, and the nature center was at the top of the waiting list when ODFW contacted me about these cubs,” Schireman said. “I’m really pleased that the brothers now have a permanent home where they can live together.”

Schireman never sees many of the cats she helps –– the range for cougars extends over nearly half the United States –– but when cubs are orphaned in Oregon, she has a more hands-on role in determining the young cougars’ futures.

It takes time to organize the transfer to a permanent home, and ODFW does not have the capacity to temporarily house orphaned cubs –– but the zoo sometimes has space in its animal quarantine facility to host cubs on a short-term basis. While they stay at the zoo, the cougars receive expert care from Schireman and zoo veterinary staff.

“These little guys were the fifth and sixth orphaned cubs that we’ve hosted in a little over a year,” Schireman said. “Collaborating with ODFW allows us to help these animals — it’s a great partnership.”

The male twins were preceded by a 9-week-old female in summer 2009, male and female siblings in winter 2009 and an adolescent male named Paiute in spring 2010. Paiute is now a permanent resident of the Oregon Zoo, while the other cubs were placed at accredited zoos in Texas, Massachusetts and Wisconsin.

Cougars –– also known as mountain lions, pumas and (in Florida) panthers –– live mostly in the western United States and Canada. They weigh from 75 to 130 pounds and have a carnivorous diet both in the wild and at the zoo. Females are either pregnant or raising cubs for the majority of their lives. After three months of gestation, two to three cubs are usually born in a litter and live with their mother for up to two years.

With the exception of the Florida panthers, cougars are not listed as endangered, but they do face many challenges in other parts of the country due to human encroachment and habitat destruction.

The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Washington’s pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles, Oregon spotted frogs and Kincaid’s lupine. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.

The zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit www.trimet.org for fare and route information.

General admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $2 per car is also required. Additional information is available at www.oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.