Kitty care
Veterinarians at the Oakland Zoo examine one of two mountain lion cubs caught in Half Moon Bay earlier this week. Photo courtesy Oakland Zoo

The mountain lion cubs captured in Half Moon Bay on Tuesday will more than likely spend the rest of their lives in a wildlife sanctuary.

After being spotted in residential neighborhoods, the cubs were caught by California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials. The cubs were captured using nets and transported to Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital on Feb. 19. The cats were sedated and then given a full health exam.

The state agency has looked for the cubs’ mother to no avail. It checked records for radio-collared lions in the area and has asked for information about any female lions that might have been struck by traffic in the area or otherwise killed. While wildlife officials were hopeful a mother lion would appear, it became clear the cubs would need human care to keep them alive.

The cubs, determined to be about four months old, arrived at the zoo in poor condition, with lesions and ticks on their bodies. They were also dehydrated and malnourished. One of the cubs was suffering from a nose wound that appeared to be from an altercation with a skunk.

Typically, mountain lion cubs stay with their mothers for two years to learn how to hunt and avoid predators. But due to their young age and lack of survival skills, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has determined these are unable to return to the wild.

“Returning them to a wild would be a massively difficult process because there is not enough information on how pumas live to replicate that training behavior,” said Virginia Thomson, executive director of the Felidae Conservation Fund, which includes the Bay Area Puma Project. “So, the best solution for them is to go to a sanctuary or zoo. And the goal would be to find the most natural environment for these cubs.”

If a mountain lion is found in the wild by CDFW in the Bay Area, it is likely to be sent to the Oakland Zoo for medical care or temporary holding. Since 2013, Oakland Zoo works with both the Bay Area Puma Project and the Mountain Lion Foundation under the name of the Bay Area Cougar Action Team.

In the past 14 months, Oakland Zoo has received nine mountain lion cubs, according to Amy Gotliffe, conservation director for Conservation Society of California.

These cubs will stay at Oakland Zoo until they are healthy and CDFW finds them a permanent home. Currently, the zoo has three mountain lions, acquired in late 2017 and as orphans, so it isn’t possible to keep any more cats, explained Gotliffe.

While protected by the state, mountain lions are at risk, often struck by cars or shot when seen as a threat in encroaching urban areas and developments. California law allows ranchers to shoot mountain lions with a depredation permit when they are determined to be a threat to livestock.

Additionally, a recent study found pumas in San Mateo County were suffering from a lack of genetic diversity. “As human development expands it is harder and harder for pumas to reach other family groups,” Thomson said. Currently, CDFW is working to conduct a census on mountain lion populations in the state.

As for the cubs captured from Half Moon Bay, they are eating and drinking again and will soon be on their way to their permanent home.

“We are really proud of the folks at California Fish and Wildlife for humanely capturing the cubs and working in effort with us to find them the best home,” Gotliffe said.

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