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June 11, 2013 Calgary Zoo

Orphaned Cougars Join Zoo Family

Sharing a Close Encounter of the Feline Kind

It’s a warm July day so my husband Steve and I pack up the kids, pull out our memberships and head down to the zoo. We’ve never been disappointed on one of our late afternoon walks and we’ve seen some amazing things – a freshly born bison calf and now a close encounter with a rescued cougar.

Looking at the female cougar as she hisses, snarls and raises her paws to match our four-year-old daughter’s hands against the glass, it’s hard to believe this formidable predator was once an orphaned cub. In May 2009, at only five months old, Freya and her brother Odin were left to fend for themselves when their mother was shot in B.C.’s Powell River area.

After spending nine months at the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, B.C. the two arrived at the zoo in the spring of 2010. “In only a few shorts months they settled in beautifully and were right at home,” says zookeeper Jolene Moran.

We can help make sure these cats stay in the wild and don’t need to seek refuge in zoos by protecting their habitat and finding ways to coexist with them in essential wildlife corridors like Banff and Fish Creek Park.”

I have no doubt I would feel differently if we ever got this close to a cougar in the wild, but at the zoo our encounter with Freya was incredibly exciting and a great chance to learn. The zoo volunteer we chatted with was quick to talk about how agile cougars are (they can leap up to 14 metres along the ground or six metres straight up into a tree) and told us about the challenges they face in the wild – habitat loss, feline disease and illegal hunting.

“We can help make sure these cats stay in the wild and don’t need to seek refuge in zoos by protecting their habitat and finding ways to coexist with them in essential wildlife corridors like Banff and Fish Creek Park,” suggests Jolene. “But when wild animals do get into trouble, sometimes relocating or rehabilitating them just isn’t possible. That’s why zoos step forward to offer permanent or temporary sanctuary, when they can.”

Like domestic cats, cougars spend much of their day sleeping. They are most active early in the morning and later in the day, so those are the best times to visit them in the zoo’s Canadian Wilds.

From the Fall 2010 issue of the Calgary Zoo’s member magazine.

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