Memphis Zoo Comes To The Rescue Of 3 Cougar Cubs

Memphis Zoo Comes To The Rescue Of 3 Cougar Cubs
LYNNWOOD - Three rescued cougar kittens narrowly escaped a death sentence.

State Wildlife agents warned they might have to kill the orphaned cubs if they couldn't find a zoo or refuge willing to take them. Now they have a new permanent home -- the Memphis Zoo.

Seen in a small enclosure at the PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, the three cougar clubs played with tree bark, bounced off the logs put there for their entertainment, and were generally curious about everything.

To all appearance, the three orphans are healthy and happy. And now, they have a future. The Memphis Zoo agreed to take all three.

"It's going to be a great, great opportunity to place these animals there for the public to see," says Washington Wildlife Agent Rocky Spencer, "and for them to live out their lives."

Two months ago, the cubs' outlook was grim. Rescued by a Duvall couple, the cubs' mother was shot after attacking a neighbor's chickens. As cute as these guys are, placing cougars isn't easy.

"There are a lot of cougar kittens out there, and there's a lot of those facilities are just so full it's difficult to find a spot," says Spencer. And the state agency warned, if a permanent home couldn't be found, the babies might be killed.

Rehabilitating and returning such young cats to the wild just doesn't work. So a refuge or shelter was the only option. In spite of the difficulties, Agent Spencer persisted with the search, and discovered the Memphis Zoo was looking for cougar cubs.

"He heard about us, we heard about him - magic happened," says Memphis Zoo Curator Kristi Newland.

Newland says that after a 30-day quarantine, the trio will live in a 1,500 square foot enclosure with trees and grass. "Cat Country" is a wildcat exhibit that was renovated in 1994 with more naturalistic habitats.

"No concrete boxes," says Newland. The cubs could move to a larger enclosure in time.

PAWS Wildlife Center cared for the orphans round the clock, at a cost of about $10,000. It's dedicated to keeping wild animals wild, and in general opposes keeping wildlife in captivity.

"It's a bittersweet end to the story," says PAWS veterinarian John Huckabee.

But faced with the choice of a zoo, or death, the state opted to give the cubs a chance.

The cubs will leave at first light Thursday accompanied by two people from the Memphis Zoo. They're flying courtesy of Fed Ex and should arrive in Memphis in just under four hours.

Zoo curator Newland says the cubs won't be sedated but, like most babies, will probably fall asleep once they're in a moving vehicle and should travel very well.