Oregon Zoo Cares For Orphaned Cougar Cub

A 10-week-old cougar cub
This 10-week-old cougar cub
will soon move to the
Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas.
Julie Cudahy, Oregon Zoo

At 10 weeks old and barely 13 pounds, this blue-eyed cougar cub wouldn’t stand a chance alone in the wild. But thanks to an ongoing collaboration between the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Zoo, the baby has found shelter and a new home.

The male cub, who Oregon Zoo keepers describe as “very handsome and feisty,” was found last week near Springfield, Oregon. When ODFW established that he was an orphan, they contacted Oregon Zoo keeper and resident puma expert Michelle Schireman.

“I’m usually the first person fish and wildlife departments call when orphaned cubs must be removed from the wild,” Schireman said. “As the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ puma population manager, I can place these cougars in accredited zoos. Baby cougars can’t live in the wild without their mothers, so zoos offer the orphans’ only chance for survival.”

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 usually takes her a few days to organize the babies’ transfer to a permanent home, and ODFW does not have the capacity to temporarily house orphaned cubs — but the Oregon Zoo sometimes has space in its animal quarantine facility to host the cubs on a short-term basis. While they stay at the zoo, the cubs receive expert care from Schireman and zoo veterinary staff.

The male cub currently residing at the zoo is the second this year that ODFW has turned over to Schireman; he was preceded in June by a 9-week-old female found near Klamath Falls, Oregon. Now named Gillin, the cub is a beloved fixture at the Northeastern Wisconsin Zoo.

Within hours of the male cub’s arrival, Schireman had found a zoo eager to adopt the baby. Located in Tyler, Texas, the Caldwell Zoo is “very excited to have the cub heading their way for the holidays,” Schireman said.

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 listed as 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.