Three orphan cougar cubs have found a new home at the Toledo Zoo.
The cubs, all females, arrived Saturday night from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife after zoo staff traveled to the West Coast state to bring them to the Glass City. They are being kept in the zoo’s on-site hospital for now.
Dr. Ric Berlinski, senior staff veterinarian, was unsure how exactly the cubs became orphans, but their plight is the result of human-wildlife conflict. A representative of the Washington agency did not return calls from The Blade on Wednesday.
Columbia and Cascade are 3 weeks old, still have their camouflaging stripes, and have to be bottle fed. They come from a litter of four in northeast Washington and each weighs about 3.5 pounds. Their two siblings are at a facility in New Jersey.
Keeper David Ross, on Wednesday holds Rainier, the eldest of three orphan mountain lion cubs rescued from Washington now at the Toledo Zoo.
“They’re settling in great,” Dr. Berlinski said. “The two little ones are adorable to watch play together. They play all the time. You’ll pick them up and as you’re handling them they’re purring and, every once in awhile, will let out a little hiss to let you know they’re still tough.”
The eldest cub, Rainier, comes from the southeast part of the state. She is estimated at 10 to 12 weeks old, weighs about 10 pounds, and is eating solid foods. She has also lost her stripes and is more the tan color of an adult.
“Rainier is very personable though a little aloof,” Dr. Berlinski said. “She is very much a miniature mountain lion. She likes to be up on things and loves to play with her Boomer Ball.”
Cougars, also called mountain lions or pumas, are found throughout North and South America. They are not endangered, but some populations are severely threatened. The species has been eradicated from Ohio.
Jeff Sailer, executive director of the zoo, said in a news release that part of the zoo’s mission is to assist wildlife agencies in the placement and care of orphaned native species. The zoo’s last cougar died in 1990.
Keepers Erin Savial and David Ross of the Toledo Zoo hold Cascade and Columbia, two of three orphan mountain lion cubs from Washington after bottle feeding the pair Wednesday.
“These cubs will not only provide a tangible connection to human-wildlife conflict, but also give zoo guests the privilege of watching an elusive and often-villainized feline species grow and develop,” he said.
For the next few weeks, visitors can watch zoo staff feed the two younger cubs at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. each day near the area for indoor elephant viewing at Tembo Trail. Time and availability are subject to change with the cubs’ needs.
Dr. Berlinski said the public feedings are an opportunity to show visitors how staff cares for animals that need to be hand-reared.
“We want the public to get a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of how we handle animals like this that come to us in these situations,” he said. “These cubs were orphaned, but sometimes babies [at the zoo] do get rejected by their parents and we have to step in and care for them.”
Rainier is eating meat four times a day. Columbia and Cascade are bottle fed every three hours except during a six-hour stretch at night. The younger cubs will be weaned and transitioned to solid food at around 7 or 8 weeks old.
The trio is expected to go on exhibit, possibly near Tiger Terrace, when they are ready.
“It’s going to be a little while before these guys get into their exhibit,” Dr. Berlinski said. “We have to get them all vaccinated and everything.”
Rainier has to be kept separate from Columbia and Cascade while they grow up a bit, so the cubs will also have to be introduced to each other and learn to get along.
“They will determine how long that takes,” Dr. Berlinski said. “But because they are all female, that’s an easier group to keep together. We’re very happy and very excited to be able to provide a home for these magnificent little animals.”
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