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Rescued cougar cubs at zoo

Three young males will soon move to new homes
by: Oregon Zoo The size of the rescued 10-week-old cougar cubs can be seen in this pictures with keeper Liz Bailey, keeper Michelle Schireman and veterinary technician Kelli Harvison (from left).

Three orphaned cougar cubs are being cared for at the Oregon Zoo until they can be moved to permanent homes in Nashville and Houston next week.

The 10-week-old male cubs were found in Washington state after their mother was illegally shot by a hunter. Another hunter rescued the first cub and turned him over to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which quickly organized a search for any other survivors.

Wildlife officials used a Karelian bear dog to locate the cougars' den, where the second cub was found. They then set live traps near the den to try to catch the third cub, but after days without any luck, a state biologist tried a different tactic - he made chirping sounds. Mother cougars often communicate with their young using high-pitched, birdlike vocalizations.

The third cub chirped back, and the biologist was able to locate him.

When wildlife officials learned the cubs were still alive, they contacted Oregon Zoo keeper Michelle Schireman, who serves as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' population manager for cougars.

'State biologists and game agents really went the extra mile to find these cubs,' Schireman said. 'Thanks to good veterinary care and a diet of milk formula and meat, they are now doing really well. Each has already gained 2 pounds, and they'll be ready to go to their new homes in about a week.'

The public will not b able to see the cubs before they are relocated.

According to zoo officials, the first two cubs to be rescued have a strong bond, so they are moving together to the Nashville Zoo. The third cub, who survived alone in the wild for a week, is going to the Houston Zoo, which is already home to a young female cougar. She is an orphan from Idaho previously placed by Schireman.

'I'm usually the first person fish and wildlife departments call when orphaned cubs are found in the wild,' Schireman said. 'Young cougars can't survive without their mothers, so I work with accredited zoos to find them new homes.'

Zoo officials say cougars -- also known as mountain lions, pumas and (in Florida) panthers -- live mostly in the western United States and Canada. They weigh from 75 to 150 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.

The zoo is a service of Metro, the elected regional government. It is dedicated to inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor's checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles, Oregon spotted frogs and Kincaid's lupine. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.