Three orphaned cubs were captured in Winthrop
Three cougar kittens that were captured in downtown Winthrop about three weeks ago have found a new “forever home” at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota.
The orphaned kittens are less than 6 months old and unable to survive in the wild without their mother, so placement in an accredited zoo or sanctuary was their only option for survival. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) found space for them at The Wildcat Sanctuary, located in a remote area of Minnesota about two hours north of the Twin Cities.
“We’re very thankful for the wildlife agents that worked so hard to find an accredited home for these orphaned kittens,” said Tammy Thies, founder and executive director of The Wildcat Sanctuary. “It’s a happy ending to a sad story. As a sanctuary, we are saddened when wild animals can’t remain wild.”
The young cougars were captured by WDFW officers during the third week of January after they were discovered hiding under a deck of a house at the end of Riverside Avenue, near River’s Edge Resort. After WDFW officers trapped the kittens in Winthrop, they were transported to Wenatchee where WDFW’s cougar and bear specialist, Rich Beausoleil, began looking for a zoo or sanctuary to take them in, and contacted The Wildcat Sanctuary.
Thies said her sanctuary has worked with Beausoleil and WDFW on many occasions to find homes for more than a dozen orphaned cougars from Washington. WDFW only places the animals in zoos and sanctuaries that are accredited by Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Thies said her facility has taken some of the cats from Washington, and she has helped find homes in other sanctuaries for other young cougars.
Thies praised Beausoleil and WDFW for working hard “to find a good outcome” for orphaned cougars. “I work with fish and game around the country and I’ve never seen agencies go to the lengths they do get a good placement. I know they are compassionate people and they care about wildlife,” she said.
Generally, placement is sought in a zoo first, but if there is not space available in any accredited zoos, “they reach out to us,” Thies said. The Wildcat Sanctuary had a large enclosure available, and the three young kittens – two males and one female – arrived on Feb. 3.
The cougars, which weigh about 40 pounds each, were flown by air cargo in a large metal crate on Delta Airlines from Seattle to Minneapolis. For about a week, they were kept in a quarantined area, to avoid possibly bringing infections into the sanctuary, and allowed to “settle in,” Thies said. This also gave them time to get used to the humans that feed and take care of them, she said.
On Feb. 11 they were sedated and spayed and neutered. After they have recovered from the surgery and medical tests show them to be healthy, they will be released into a large, free-roaming habitat where “they’ll be able to live wild-at-heart,” Thies said. “These three will stay as a family unit as long as they behave well toward each other.” That communal living is positive for the cats. “It’s one way to have enrichment in captivity,” Thies said.
Since arriving at the sanctuary, the three kittens have spent most of the time huddling together. The young female, although the smallest kitten, “is the alpha of the group,” Thies said. “She’s feisty. She’ll tell us off with a big hiss.”
The cougars’ new home will be about 10,000 square feet, with grassy hills, pine trees, multi-level platforms to climb and cave structures, Thies said. “There is a lot of brush. It’s very different than a zoo environment. That’s good for wild-borns, which tend to be shy,” she said.
The three Washington cougars will be in a habitat that became available after three cougars died of old age over the past six years. The Wildcat Sanctuary is home to nine other wild-born cougars, all orphaned in the past decade. Cougars in captivity can be expected to live 18-20 years, and about 10-12 in the wild, Thies said.
The cats in the sanctuary are left on their own as much as possible, although they need to develop a certain level of trust and responsiveness so that caregivers can move them periodically into a holding area if needed for their care, Thies said.
“They will keep their wild instincts and prefer each other to us, which is what we want. Our biggest thing is that we want them to have a quality of life without us. If they can be neutral to us, that’s what we want,” Thies said.
Need for sanctuary
The Wildcat Sanctuary is not a public facility, she said. It has about 116 cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats, lynx and cougars. The majority are animals rescued from private owners who kept them as pets or in captivity. Some come from “deplorable facilities” such as roadside menageries or traveling exhibits, and some come from zoos that are closing or can no longer keep them, Thies said. The animals are primarily from the United States, but some have come from as far away as Argentina.
Thies said she expected to primarily take animals from other owners or facilities when she created the sanctuary, but has found there is a need to provide sanctuary to wild-born cats as well.
“It’s bittersweet, because I never thought we’d have to take in wild animals,” she said. “But at least these animals have never known abuse or neglect.”
The Wildcat Sanctuary is asking for public input in naming the Washington kittens. The public can submit name ideas at www.facebook.com/wildcatsanctuary. More information about the sanctuary is available at WildcatSanctuary.org.