Baby cougar faced 48-hour death sentence

Baby cougar faced 48-hour death sentence
Gillin, a 9-week-old cougar cub found orphaned in the wild near Klamath Falls, has a ball at the Oregon Zoo's quarantine facility. Gillin will soon be shipped to the Northeastern Wisconsin Zoo, where she will live. Photos by Carli Davidson, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.

This is a press release courtesy of the Oregon Zoo

At 9 weeks old and barely 6 pounds, this blue-eyed cutie wouldn't stand a chance alone in the wild. But thanks to a collaborative effort between the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Zoo, Gillin the cougar has found shelter and a new home.

The cub was discovered last month near Klamath Falls, Ore., by two men collecting firewood in the area. She was turned over to a veterinarian in Klamath Falls, who then contacted ODFW wildlife veterinarian Colin Gillin, after whom the cub has since been named.

Gillin's quick response and veterinary protocols likely saved this cougar's life. After seeing to the health of the cub, Gillin contacted Oregon Zoo keeper and resident puma expert Michelle Schireman to find a home for the baby.

"I'm usually the first person fish and wildlife departments call when orphaned cubs or nuisance cats must be removed from the wild," said Schireman. "I work with accredited zoos across the country to find them new homes."

For the past 18 years, Schireman -- who serves as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' puma population manager -- has persistently sought homes for the nation's orphaned cougar cubs.

"Cougar cubs learn survival skills from their mothers and cannot survive without them," commented Schireman. "Young cougars are deemed non-releaseable, so if state biologists cannot find homes for the cubs in zoos within 48 hours, they are forced to euthanize the cats."

ODFW doesn't have the capacity to house abandoned cubs, so it's a race against the clock to place these kitties in suitable holding facilities. This cub was fortunate to find a temporary home at the Oregon Zoo, which had space available in its animal quarantine facility. Schireman and the other keepers took extra safety precautions and wore protective plastic gear when handling her in order to protect other zoo animals from possible contamination.

Within hours, Schireman had a list of zoos eager to adopt the cub, and after negotiations with several locations, Baby Gillin was offered a new home at the Northeastern Wisconsin Zoo. The zoo is currently home to a 7-year-old female cougar, who will be introduced to Gillin in the upcoming weeks.

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, pumas and (in Florida) panthers, live mostly in the western United States and Canada. The mammals 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 endangered, but they do face many challenges in the United States. Human encroachment, habitat destruction and hunting are just some of the dangers cougars encounter.

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

The zoo opens at 8 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. Zoo visitors are encouraged to ride MAX or take TriMet bus No. 63. Visitors who take the bus or 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 (12-64), seniors $9 (65+), children $7.50 (3-11), and infants 2 and under are free; 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.