On December 20, 2011, two severely malnourished and scared puma cubs were found under a parked car in a neighborhood in Burbank, a mile from the Verdugo Mountains. The shocked residents were not expecting to come across this wild pair and one local further startled the poor cubs by “shooing them with a broom.”
Animal Control took the frightened cubs to the Burbank Animal shelter where it was determined (from their tooth size) that they were 10-week old mountain lion cubs. They were then moved to the California Wildlife Center, a refuge in Calabasas licensed to handle mountain lions. Executive Director, Cindy Reyes, said they were about half the weight they should be for their age. In fact, due to their small size and emaciated bodies, it was thought that the cubs had not eaten in about two weeks.
What about their mother? While no one knows for sure, officials believe the pair’s mother was “either killed or somehow trapped and unable to tend to her cubs.” Fish and Game spokesman Andrew Hughan said a search would not be attempted as “the chance of finding the mother is infinitesimal.” Enigmatic and private by nature, it is likely it was the search of food that brought them out of the mountains in the first place.
Can’t they go back in the wild? Unfortunately, the cubs would not survive in the wild without their mother. As Hughan said, “they’re not good candidates to be released because of all the (human) contact, and they haven’t been trained to hunt and gather food themselves yet.” Even when adult mountain lions are found in urban areas, it is almost impossible to return them to wild areas as mountain lions by nature are territorial and it would likely end in fatal conflict if inadvertly placed into another puma’s area. Without 100% accurate monitoring of puma movement, which is impossible, it is not possible to know if the territory is already inhabited by another mountain lion. Felidae’s flagship program, The Bay Area Puma Project (BAPP) is a first of its kind large-scale research, education and outreach project working on monitoring and tracking pumas, but it is currently limited to the area in and around the SF Bay area.
A New Home. While going back to the wild is out of the question, the cubs have found a new place to call home. Olive and Magnolia have been relocated to Zoo To You, a wildlife sanctuary in Paso Robles that is the home to many dislocated wildlife in need including tigers, black bears, grown mountain lions, kangaroos and porcupines.
Zoo to You has a unique objective: for these animals to be ambassadors for their species and to create connections with people’s hearts. Zoo To You ambassador animals travel worldwide to schools and other locations to create visceral connections with people through the individual animal’s personal story and “ to develop a passion that cannot be created through lectures or videos.” As such, these animals are trained for “calmness, bravery and socialization.”
David Jackson, owner and director of Zoo To You reports that when Olive and Magnolia arrived, “they were surprisingly thin” and were so afraid they would barely come out of their den boxes. Only a couple months later and David reports that while still cautious, they are gaining weight and getting braver—even venturing down to grab meat from the Zoo Keepers during feeding time.
When you have the chance to look into the soulful eyes of a mountain lion, one realizes there is no reason for unwarranted fear. As ambassadors for their species, the cubs will teach people that humans can live safely along side wildlife.