Two orphaned mountain lion kittens have been taken in by the Oakland Zoo. The Zoo worked with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Feline Conservation Center (FCC) to rescue them.
The kittens were found two weeks apart from each other in Orange County. Not long before, an adult female mountain lion was struck and killed by an unknown motorist near the Orange County 4-H Trabuco Trailblazers ranch. After losing 8 pygmy goats to a lion earlier this year, the Trailblazers have learned the important role mountain lions play in our ecosystems and have become advocates for their survival and for coexistence with our beautiful native cat. They are working to implement a predator education program for 4-H groups throughout the stat e, which will emphasize the use of predator-proof enclosures for 4-H animals. We are thankful to them for their efforts to help save America;s lion. Authorities believe the kittens may have belonged to the female killed in Orange County and were separated as a result of her tragic death. Based on the kittens' ages and geographic proximity to each other, the cubs are believed to be siblings. Oakland Zoo veterinarians will conduct DNA testing to determine if they are, in fact, siblings.
In response to situations such as this, Oakland Zoo helped found BACAT (Bay Area Cougar Action Team) in 2013, in partnership with the Bay Area Puma Project and the Mountain Lion Foundation, to work with CDFW help save mountain lions caught in human-wildlife conflict situations.
It is truly a gift that these kittens were found. In California, 100 lions die annually on depredation permits and another 100 die on roads. If 50% of those lions are female and 50% of those have kittens, then we would expect 100 kittens orphaned per year, the vast majority of which are never found, and even when they are, we cannot expect to find homes for all of them. It is a gift to those who care about California wildlife that they were found and a gift that the Oakland Zoo was able to take them and give them homes for the rest of their lives.
"The loss of a female, and orphaning of her kittens in Southern California is especially tragic, as the mountain lions of the Santa Ana's are the most at-risk in the nation, equal to the Florida Panther in terms of the uncertainty around their survival. Orphaned kittens represent the death of a mother lion, and this isolated Orange County population cannot afford the loss. It will take protection of habitat and wildlife corridors, depredation prevention efforts, and enhancements of Southern California freeways to allow the mountain lions of the Santa Ana's and Orange County to survive. The two orphaned kittens at the Oakland Zoo are evidence of that need," said Lynn Cullens, Executive Director of the Mountain Lion Foundation.
Because the Santa Ana lions need an influx of new genes to survive, there must be a way for lions dispersing from the mountain ranges in San Diego County to make their way north. On Tuesday, December 11, 2017 the Temecula City Council met to decide whether to approve the Altair development, which has the potential to close the last remaining corridor across the I-15 freeway. A coalition of organizations has come together to demand a development solution that will leave the corridor intact.
According to Dr. Winston Vickers of the Southern California Puma Project, "The combination of low survival rates and inbreeding is putting the Santa Ana Mountains puma population at risk of decline or extirpation." Through Dr. Vickers, the Wildlife Health Center at UC Davis works with highway agencies to reduce the likelihood of lions being killed on busy roads, by designing directional fencing, improved crossing structures, and other measures.
The issuance of permits to kill mountain lions for preying on domestic animals represents another avoidable obstacle to survival. The Mountain Lion Foundation works with the owners of unprotected livestock to prevent the loss of livestock in Orange County by building new pens, fortifying existing enclosures, and using new technologies to keep mountain lions safely away.
Cullens explains, "The orphaning of two kittens in Orange County in the midst of these efforts to protect the Santa Ana lions, are both a grim reminder of the consequences of inaction, and a reminder that there is hope, as conservation organizations like the Oakland Zoo bring the threats to California's mountain lions to the attention of the public."
Both kittens are male and estimated to be 3-4 months old and weigh close to 30 lbs. Kittens this young are not able to survive alone in the wild. They were found approximately 15 miles apart in Orange County's Silverado Canyon and Rancho Santa Margarita. The kittens were initially cared for by FCC in Lake Forest, before being brought to the Oakland Zoo where they are currently being quarantined, given medical attention and cared for by the Zoo's Veterinary Hospital.
The second kitten arrived at the Zoo on Monday, December 10th and is doing very well. Zookeepers describe him as 'feisty' compared to his counterpart, who is more shy and cautious. Mountain lions are new to the Oakland Zoo, and these two cubs and the events that led them to need a 'forever home' will serve as educational ambassadors at Oakland Zoo's upcoming 56-acre California Trail expansion, opening in June 2018.
"It is an honor to provide a forever home for these young mountain lions, and honor their lives further by working to help conserve their wild counterparts. We have a lot of work to do to better protect and conserve pumas, from proper education to establishing wildlife crossings and proper enclosures for pets and livestock. Oakland Zoo will continue to work in our BACAT Alliance with CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bay Area Puma Project and Mountain Lion Foundation to inspire our community to both understand and take action for our precious local lion." said Amy Gotliffe, Director of Conservation at Oakland Zoo.
California Trail aims to inspire guests by the expansive view and ability to gaze at gorgeous California wildlife, but a deeper goal is to enable guests to have an impact on the future of these species. The Zoo will offer guests an opportunity to take action for animals, like mountain lions, through various activities, connections and campaigns. Their goal is to create an educated and inspired California community. The mountain lion habitat in the Zoo’s expansion site is intended to mimic California habitat, educate visitors about wildlife in California and inspire people to take action for the future of the state's wildlife and natural resources. The zoo plans to offer conservation partners, like MLF, a platform to share their message and increased opportunities for collaborations that include the visiting public.
The mountain lion habitat is currently under construction and is expected to be complete and ready for the cubs by February or March. At 26,000 square feet, the covered habitat is boomerang-shaped with netting reaching 50 feet in the air, covering mature oak trees in which the mountain lions can perch, rest, and climb. They will also have rocky outcroppings that create caves that they can choose to rest and hide in. In addition to their night house in the evenings, they will have access to the expansion area, which will include some trees and platforms for climbing and resting. This new habitat, one of the largest mountain lion exhibits in the world, and all of its features, focus on attributes of the lions' natural environment.
For now, the priority for Oakland Zoo's keepers and veterinary staff is for the cubs to develop a bond with each other, build their confidence and trust in their keepers in order to acclimate to Zoo guests when the California Trail opens to the public in June 2018. Mountain Lion Foundation is excited to be working with the Oakland Zoo on such an important project!
ABOUT OAKLAND ZOO:
The Bay Area's award-winning Oakland Zoo is home to more than 700 native and exotic animals. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to the humane treatment of animals and wildlife conservation onsite and worldwide; with 50 cents from each ticket donated to support conservation partners and programs around the world.
The zoo's California Trail expansion, opening in June 2018, brings to life the rich natural history of California in a whole new way. Designed to be more like a wild animal park, California Trail will feature America's western region's historic and iconic animal species in large exhibits, including grey wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lions, bald eagles, California condors and black bears. Through the California Trail experience, Oakland Zoo presents a dynamic and inspiring story about finding balance in how we steward our state's natural legacy. Nestled in the Oakland Hills, in 500-acre Knowland Park, the Zoo is located at 9777 Golf Links Road, off Highway 580. The East Bay Zoological Society (Oakland Zoo) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization supported in part by members, contributions, the City of Oakland and the East Bay Regional Parks. For more information, go to www.oaklandzoo.org.