Common Names: Cougar, Puma, Panther,
Mountain Lion, Catamount Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrata) Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Family: Felidae Genus: Felinae (Puma) Species: concolor Sub-species:
Eastern Texas to Florida – P.c.coryi –IUCN: Endangered, CITES:Appendix I Northeastern US and southeastern Canada Cougar – P.c. couguar – IUCN: Endangered, CITES: Appendix I Central American Cougar – P.c. costaricensis – CITES: Appendix I Misc: The cougar has the greatest natural distribution of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere except for man.
The cougar is extremely agile and has great jumping power and may leap from the ground up to a height of 18 feet into a tree. It is a good swimmer but prefers not to enter the water. Sight is its most acute sense with a good sense of hearing, but is thought to have a poorly developed sense of smell.
Size and Appearance: The cougar is the largest cat in the genus “felis”, and is comparable in size as the leopard. They vary in length from 59 – 108 inches with a tail length of 21 – 36 inches, and height from 23 – 28 inches at the shoulder. Weight can vary greatly, between 75 and 250 pounds. They have a long body with a small head, short face, and a long neck and tail. They are powerfully built, and the hind legs are larger than the front. The ears are small, short and rounded.
Habitat: The cougar thrives in montane, coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, swamps, grassland, dry brush country, or any other area with adequate cover and prey.
Distribution: Western North America from British Columbia and south Alberta south through west Wyoming to California and west Texas. Also south Texas, Louisiana, south Alabama, Tennessee, and peninsular Florida.
Reproduction and Offspring: There is no fixed mating season, but in North America, the majority of births occur between late winter and early spring. Females tend to reproduce every other year, and give birth to litters of 1 – 6 (usually 2-3) kittens after a gestation of 90-96 days. Mothers give birth to their young in dens that are lined with moss or vegetation, usually in rock shelters, crevices, piles of rocks, thickets, caves, or some other protected place. Kittens weigh approximately 7-16 ounces at birth, and have spotted coats until they are around 6 months old. They will continue to nurse for 3 or more months, but will begin to take meat at 6 weeks. The kittens will remain with their mothers until they are 1-2 years old, and after separating, siblings will remain together for another 2-3 months. Females reach sexual maturity around 2.5 and males around 3 years. They will not begin to reproduce until they have established themselves a permanent home area. The may remain reproductive until 12 years of age for females, and 20 years for males.
In captivity, cougars have lived over 20 years, as compared to 8 – 10 in the wild. At Big Cat Rescue one cougar lived to one month shy of 30 years.
Social System and Communication: Cougars are solitary cats and will avoid other individuals except for during mating. They communicate by the use visual and olfactory signals, and the males regularly make scrapes in the soil or snow. Their vocalizations include growls, hisses, and bird-like whistles. They purr like the domestic cats, and during estrus, the females give off loud, hair-raising screams. Hear our purrs, hisses, snarls, calls, and growl sounds HERE
Hunting and Diet: Cougars primarily feed on large mammals, preferring deer, but they will also eat Coyotes, Porcupines, Beaver, mice marmots, hares, raccoons, birds and even grasshoppers. They kill by stalking to within 30 feet of their prey before pouncing from its hiding place. It leaps onto its victim’s back and bites into the neck and holds with its sharp claws.
Principal Threats: According to 2001 statistics provided from actual sales of hunting permits, almost 2100 cougars are still being killed each year. This figure does not include all the cougars killed by hunters who do not buy licenses nor report their kills. Less than 3% of our population are hunters but they kill over 100 million animals each year for sport.
Status: CITES: Appendix I, USDI: Endangered
2003 Felid TAG recommendation: Puma (Puma concolor). A widely held species, the Felid TAG is urging the elimination of this species from collections, whenever possible, in favor of similar-sized, but rarer SSP or PMP felid species. Only acquisition of pumas needed for education or zoogeographic exhibit themes is recommended. With the exception of the Florida panther, no breeding is recommended. The present zoo population of pumas is comprised of more than 200 individuals, and the studbook keeper is striving to reduce this number to 120 or less. In cases of exhibition need, new animals should be acquired from other AZA institutions or, alternatively, cubs from sanctuary or rescue programs.
How rare is this cat ? The International Species Information Service lists 334 in zoos worldwide, with 119 being in the U.S.
Mickey Cougar’s story is so long and heartbreaking that it will be hard to tell in just a few minutes. (Watch his rescue video to find out the whole story.)
Animal House, in Moulton, AL, was a backyard zoo that operated with a USDA license up until 2006 when it was revoked. At the time Alabama had no laws to regulate the private possession of wild animals, so once USDA washed their hands of the mess, there was virtually no government oversight of the facility. Former volunteers say the owner had no other source of income than her social security check and that she had contracted with the county to become their dog pound.
In 2013 conditions there were reported to be so grim that the county revoked her contract and rescue groups went in to save the dogs and cats housed at Animal House. One of the rescuers video taped a leopard who had been injured by a Doberman, two years prior, and sent the photos and video to Big Cat Rescue asking for help.
We were told that the owner had been feeding the dogs and cats there to her wild animals and that the Doberman had fought back. Her family said the dog had just been in an adjacent cage and the leopard reached through. Regardless of whether it was malice or neglect, the leopard’s leg had bones sticking out and festering tissue exposed. Big Cat Rescue tried, unsuccessfully, for months, to get USDA, the USFWS, the State of Alabama and the local Sheriff to either confiscate the leopard or get her medical attention. When they failed to help the cat we appealed to the media, who said there wasn’t a story if they couldn’t get permission to go film the cat themselves, which the owner was NOT going to allow.
The leopard died and had probably suffered unimaginable agony for two years or more until her wounds killed her.
We never gave up and 2014 began negotiations with the owner, her family members and the state department of natural resources to rescue the cats who still were being kept there. When we saw the condition Mickey Cougar was in, we didn’t know if he would make it at all.
Both of his back knees suffered from torn ligaments so that when he walked the bones on top would just roll and slip off the bottom bones. It was painful to even look at him. Despite the fact that he was grossly underweight and had almost no muscle mass we had to make the difficult decision to sedate him to evaluate the damage and then again to try and repair it.
Dr. Hay, an orthopedic specialist, did the surgery, using something like a synthetic ligament mesh, to mend back his first leg. Dr. Wynn used a new technique of spinning the patient’s own blood and harvesting platelet rich plasma, to quicken healing, which was injected into the other knee. We had to reduce the size of Mickey’s cage, so he takes it easy while he is healing. We will probably have to go back and do surgery on the injected knee once the first one has healed.
Meanwhile Mickey seems to have a strong will to live and we are going to give him every chance possible at a happy life.
Update Feb 22, 2016
Mickey Update Oct. 15, 2014
I can’t even look at Mickey without tearing up because he is at once, both so pitiful and yet so determined to overcome. We knew it would cost a lot to try and fix him.
For the past week or so, Mickey has been getting rehab treatments, to encourage him to use the leg and build up some muscle. It is Mickey’s nature to have two speeds: Laying around and full out running for the dinner plate. The twice a day rehab work gives him food treat rewards for walking slowing and deliberately.
We can see a pronounced improvement in the leg that was repaired, as he can keep the knee in place much better, but because of his lack of strength, from nearly starving to death in Alabama, and having no muscle, he trips over his back feet.
We film some of these sessions so the vet can see his progress and have shared some of them online, but it hurts to watch.
Dr. Hay visited the sanctuary recently, to see the rehab session himself. He said at Mickey’s current pace he thinks the surgically repaired knee should be strong enough that he can operate on the other side in 3 to 6 months.
Every day it is touch and go with Mickey because he needs to let the repair heal fully, and thus distribute his weight to the repaired leg and the one that still slides all over the place. Too much reliance on the repaired leg and it could damage the work done and never heal right and too much reliance on the broken knee, and his muscles on the other side will continue to atrophy.
Everything has its side effects, so even the pain meds have to be very carefully monitored, as too much can make him nauseous or cause him to sleep all the time and too little can make him not want to move at all.
Whenever there are cats in need of rescue, we always offer to take the oldest, sickest or most impaired because our sanctuary is unique in its ability to provide the best veterinary and supportive care. We have 2 vets that have been with us for about a decade each. They visit twice a week and provide all of the house calls for free.
We have specialists in orthopedics, eyes, cancer and teeth who dramatically discount their work because they love the big cats. We have 14 paid staff, who do administrative work and manage our 80-100 volunteers who put in the collective hours of 40 more paid staff. By spending the time and money to train expert volunteers, our donors’ money can go directly to the cats.
The reason we can provide such excellent care is because people like you care. It is your donations that keep the food coming every night, the medications on time, the emergency care and the ability to take in other cats like Mickey, who wouldn’t have a chance anywhere else.
Mickey Cougar Update March 6, 2015
Mickey Cougar was rescued in 2014. He was in such bad shape that we weren’t sure if we should try to fix everything that was wrong with him, or put him out of his misery. This video does not seem to have ever been posted, as it was 40 minutes long and 6GB in size. It’s been cut down to 12 minutes and shows the horrible decisions we often have to make.
Check out our main YouTube channel at BigCatTV.com and our website at BigCatRescue.org
and it certainly is appropriate for a cougar who was born into the pet trade in 1995 in Texas, was shipped to New York and then traveled to a rescue center in South Florida before taking the last road trip, at the age of 18, to her forever home at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa.
This folder of images will be updated as they come in from the Big Cat Rescue team.
From a former volunteer:
Hello! Here is some basic information about Reise the cougar and the information I have gathered from my time at SFWRC.
Reise (pronounced rise-uh) is a Texan cougar who had been at South Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for 15 years. She is believed to be around 18-19 years of age. She was confiscated in New York from a drug dealer where she was kept in a small apartment having been fed domestic cat food and extremely undernourished with worms. Her illegal owner was only fined $500, which goes to show how under enforced big cat regulations can be.
She was brought to SFWRC where she began a long recovery after suffering years of abuse. Unfortunately, she was badly de-clawed as a cub by her original breeder. Reise had surgery to fix a lame front paw. The nail was growing back into the paw and trying to invade bone. Dr. Mormane, a veterinarian, generously donated his time to fix Reise’s foot for free.
Several toes had the same issue, but one of them was very bad. As Dr. Mornane began stitching, they discovered that there’s no padding left on Reise’s toe on her front right paw. That meant any more trimming and she’ll bone on bone.
Dr. Mormane ruled that from now on, her nails will have to be filed. Dr. Mornane had generously agreed to fly in every 3-4 months to take care of this himself. Reise’s paw has healed tremendously from what it once was. After the surgery (which, had Dr. Mormane not paid for himself, would have cost the sanctuary over $300), Reise’s demeanor immediately changed as she became more playful and active.
One of the most vocal cats at the sanctuary, Reise is capable of making a plethora of different noises to signal her different moods. One of my favorites is her signature “greeting” squeak that she repeatedly shows off throughout the day. She is very friendly and I discovered a few months ago that she likes frozen ice balls to swat around. I’d wanted to try bloodcicles with her, but I had no idea where to get blood, haha.
Reise is generally a very even tempered cat. For whatever reason, she prefers men over women. She also loves to roll around on her back when she’s in a playful mood, which is most of the time. You’ll notice she has very cute black dots on her nose and a very stocky, cougar-like frame. At SFWRC, she spent a lot of time up on her perch lounging around. She is very bright and attentive to her surroundings. If a bird flies too close to her enclosure, she’s sure to stalk it. To my knowledge, she’s never consumed a live animal.
I began volunteering at SFWRC almost exactly a year ago. Seeing as I lived about an hour north, I came down to help around once or twice a month. I enjoyed helping to clean the enclosures- hosing down poop and such (always from the outside, SFWRC was protected contact with touching allowed through the cage and only behind the animal’s face), feed the animals, change their water, get to know their individual personalities, and create enrichment ideas. Each animal reacted differently to different EEDs.
Watching them be curious and explore new “inventions” was probably my favorite aspect of helping out the cats. Exotic pet education was also a HUGE principle of the sanctuary. In May, two dedicated volunteers helped me organize a tour of SFWRC with fifteen kids from our school. We gave them a tour of the animals and educated them about the animal’s histories, what it takes to take care of a big cat (basically facts that would deter them from ever considering it), and most importantly, the exotic pet trade.
I always knew the enclosures could do much better, IE larger and more naturalistic with environmental enrichment devices. Dirk did, everybody did.
The message of the sanctuary was that big cats don’t belong in captivity, but if they have to be (due to irresponsible exotic pet owners), we would like to give them a safe home, free from abuse. Dirk’s goal was to relocate to somewhere more spacious, like northern Florida, and expand the cats’ enclosures.
Generally, the sanctuary flew under the public radar because it never advertised things like “Come play with the kitties!” because that was totally against the idea of the sanctuary. Because the sanctuary wasn’t a publicity stunt, it also meant it was constantly under financial siege. SFWRC relied solely on volunteers. All the credit goes to those volunteers who were there full time and always took care of the cats, they kept the sanctuary running for as long as it did.
From the time I volunteered there to the time it was closed, SFWRC housed one Siberian tiger, one African lion, one Java macaque, one Rhesus macaque, one serval/caracal mix, one Bengal tiger, two FL panthers, two cougars, and two leopards (although I believe that one of the leopards, Spotty, had to have some jaguar in him, due to his stocky appearance, wide face, and larger, darker rosettes with multiple dots in side them).
All of these cats/monkeys were older animals. Alex, the African lion, passed away in February from old age (he was nearly thirty, an incredible feat for a captive lion!). He was confiscated from an unfit owner in Berea, KY where he was saved from being euthanized. Benny, the Java macaque, also passed away from old age (at around 30 years).
Sinbad, the Siberian tiger, tragically passed away in March from a rattlesnake bite. Sinbad came from a private owner who could not take care of him. He was only six when he passed.
Nicky, a leopard, came from an alligator wrestling tourist attraction where she was carted around to children’s parties in a tiny crate on Hwy 41.
Spotty, the other leopard (or possible jaguar mix?) was confiscated from a Palm Beach dealer who used him as a “guard dog” for a construction site. He was constantly teased and poked with brooms, causing him to be extremely aggressive to this day. He is believed to be around 20 years of age.
As you already know, Jojo came from an illegal breeder who purposefully crossbred two distinct species before arriving at SFWRC, creating a medical mess.
Khrishna, the Bengal tiger, is around 6 years old. He was confiscated at 1.5 years of age from Parrot Jungle Island where he was leased to a movie production company.
Nola, a sweet cougar with feline distemper and cerebellar hypoplasia, was confiscated from a woman walking her on a leash at Miami Beach. When officers asked her for her license, she pulled out her driver’s license…
Anyway, I’m sorry this message has been so long, there is just so much to say for all these animals. As sad as it is to say goodbye to them, I am extremely excited, optimistic, and happy for all of them as they will enjoy the type of habitats and natural stimulation they deserve. I can’t wait for the day when I can visit BCR and the other facilities to see how the cats are doing.
Water bowl in Reise cougar’s cage at SFWRC the day of the rescue
Male DOB 1/1/03
Caravel (Caracal / Serval Hybrid)
Meet Jo Jo the Caracal Serval Hybrid
I first met JoJo the Caracal / Serval hybrid at the South Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in 2005 after a hurricane had taken down the perimeter fencing and dumped piles of deadfall on the cages.
The owner, Dirk Neugebohm, had ended up in the hospital with a heart attack from trying to clean the mess up by himself.
He wrote from what he thought was his deathbed back then to anyone and everyone he could think of asking for help; and asking for help was not something that came easily to this hard working German.
What we found, when Howard and I visited, was a man who was way in over his head. Donations were almost non existent, the cages were old, dilapidated, small and concrete floored. The freezer had been damaged and he had lost his food supply, so we sent food and volunteers to help him clean up and rebuild.
The tiger back then was Sinbad, who lived in what is commonly used for housing parrots. An oval corn crib cage with a metal roof. Sinbad died recently after a snake bite, leaving Krishna, pictured, as the only remaining tiger.
We had a donor and a sanctuary (Safe Haven in NV) that were willing to take Krishna, but we were told that the Florida Wildlife Commission had found someone less than 6 miles away to take him.
Dirk managed to keep his sanctuary afloat, if just barely, for the next 8 years, but a couple days ago one of his volunteers, Vickie Saez, who we had been helping for the past couple of years with infrastructure and social networking, contacted us to say that Dirk was dying of brain cancer in the hospital and that she had convinced him to let the animals go to other homes. She said the Florida Wildlife Commission had arranged for most of the homes, but that Dirk was very happy that we could take JoJo. Our sweet Caracal, Rose, had died July 31st and her cage was empty.
We were told that all of the other cats had new homes waiting, except for Nola the cougar, but she was very ill. We offered to pay a vet to do blood work on her to make sure that she was not contagious. We were concerned because she had a history of some very contagious diseases, which had left her severely debilitated. What concerned us was that her caretaker said she looked bloated.
A vet had arrived to help with the transfer of two leopards to a place in Jupiter. He sedated Nola to see what was wrong.
We are told that he palpitated three melon sized tumors in her abdomen and that with every touch of her belly she exuded foamy blood from her nose and anus. He was sure that there was no hope for her and humanely euthanized her.
This photo was Nola back in 2011. While we were sad that we would not be able to give Nola a new home here at Big Cat Rescue we are glad that she is not suffering any more.
JoJo at Big Cat Rescue
JoJo has arrived at Big Cat Rescue and settled in nicely. It is quite possibly his first time to walk on the soft earth.
His cage has been a small (maybe 60 square feet) of concrete and chain link for at least 8 years and probably longer. He is thought to be about 10 years old. Sometimes breeders hybridize exotic cats because there are no laws on the books that regulate them, but in Florida, the inspectors say, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck; it’s a duck.”
JoJo now has 1,200 square feet of earth, bushes, trees and grass.
He really likes the grass. Are you hearing the Beetles lyric, “JoJo left his home in Homestead-Miami looking for some Florida grass?”
DOB 1/1/97 – 2/3/16
Rescue of Narla the Cougar:
This is a letter from someone who knew the Loppi’s. This person below, wanted us to know that Rob was well intended and I post it here as an example of how even the best intentions usually end up bad for the exotic animal.
According to a number of emails I got after the fact, Rob’s wife was looking to euthanize the cat, but Rob’s friends, family and the media were on her case and she couldn’t do it without looking like a monster when we were standing by, ready to take her. It is only because of supporters, like you, that we can help cats like Narla in their greatest moment of need.
Narla has been pretty much blind since she arrived, but Dr. Miller came out to check on her eyes again today.
Dr. Liz Wynn has many friends in the veterinary community and calls in specialists when it is warranted.
Previous exams have shown Narla Cougar to have eye ulcerations that have been treated with eye drops.
This exam reveals that the back side of her eyes are degenerating and Dr. Miller suspects it was from her first 14 years of insufficient nutrition before coming to Big Cat Rescue.
Dr. Tammy Miller says Narla is one of her favorite patients.
When big cats are pulled from their mothers to be hand reared as pets, like Narla had been, they never get a sufficient diet on kitten or puppy milk replacer. This causes a life time of debilitation.
More from Narla’s Rescue:
Dear Big Cat Rescue:
I am very happy that you are giving Narla a new home. Since her owner, Rob Loppi’s, death last May, I can’t tell you how many people worried and wondered what would become of Narla. My reason for writing to you is not just to thank you for taking care of Narla, but because I wanted to give you some background information. I feel it is important for you to know how Narla came to Rhode Island in the first place. Since the story of Narla’s rescue broke, I have read and heard many negative comments about Rob Loppi having this animal in the first place. There have been many comments in the newspapers that are just not accurate. Since Rob is no longer with us, and can’t defend himself, I would like the real story known. He didn’t just wake up one morning and decide on a whim that it would be great to have a cougar. I was there, and would like the true story to be told.
Rob got Narla when she was a baby, not 5 months old as was inaccurately reported. She was no bigger than a puppy, still had her baby fuzz and spots and was still being bottle fed. She was obtained by a person that Rob knew casually. This friend purchased her from a breeder in Virginia, thinking that it would be cool to have a mountain lion as a pet. When he got her home, his fiancé, correctly, would not allow him to keep her, so he brought her to Rob. People were always bringing unwanted animals to Rob…cats, dogs, goats, pigs…whatever.
Initially, Rob did not want to take her, but he was afraid that if he refused she would end up in a bad situation. Rob took her in and set about trying to find her a home. Since she was an illegal exotic at that point, this was not an easy task. He contacted the Dept. of Environmental Management in RI anonymously and was informed that they would confiscate the cat and most likely she would be destroyed – unbelievable, but true. They said that it was not their policy to find homes for dangerous animals, just to protect the environment and maintain public safety. He then contacted Roger Williams Zoo and asked them to take her – they refused because a). they do not take animals from private parties, only other zoos, and b). she came from a breeder and was bottle fed. They said that other cats would not take to her and would possibly harm or kill her. After many more such calls…you get the picture. No one would help. You should also keep in mind that this time period was before the internet was a household item, so trying to get information was much more difficult.
Feeling like he had no other options, he contacted the breeder in Virginia and asked to bring her back. He drove her to Virginia and was appalled at the conditions. Virginia’s laws on exotics are (or, at that time, were) very lenient and this guy would obviously sell to anyone as long as the price was right. He just couldn’t leave her there. He knew that she would be re-sold and probably end up in a traveling carnival or roadside “zoo” with her teeth filed down, being whipped into submission, living in deplorable conditions and spending most of her life in a crate. He knew that he could do better by her, so he made the decision that he would have to keep her to make sure that she was cared for and safe. Unfortunately, this would mean having her declawed for safety. This wasn’t something he wanted to do, but he did it in an effort to try to maintain her.
He then set about getting Narla legal. Since he already knew DEM’s position, he went to the Federal level. USDA told him what he needed to do in order to get a license to keep an exotic (again, at that time, their rules were much less stringent). He built the double cage (making it bigger and stronger than the required size and pipe diameter) with natural materials and different levels and perches for climbing, set up an account with a chicken farm so he could feed her properly, contacted a veterinarian who had the qualifications to provide medical care for Narla and set about learning everything he needed to know about the care and husbandry of mountain lions. USDA inspected and found him to be a suitable owner and he was granted a license. Once he had the USDA license in hand, DEM could not confiscate and destroy her, so he was then able to begin application for a RI license. He hired an attorney and, after getting through all the paperwork and red tape, he received the license. RI DEM inspected regularly, including random and surprise visits, always finding Narla in good care and condition.
Rob NEVER tried to domesticate Narla. He was very well aware that she was a wild animal. While he did have an amazing connection with her, she was always treated as a mountain lion, not as a house cat, which has been implied in the media. Narla has been characterized as “gentle and affectionate” and she was…with Rob. This, as you know, is the case with big cats…they bond to one person and can be jealous and aggressive with others. Visitors and friends were not allowed to just hang out in the living room with her. She didn’t just wander freely around the house or yard. Even Rob’s closest friends were not allowed direct contact. This wasn’t Siegfried and Roy. She is a predator and certainly capable of attacking and killing. He knew that, and safety was always the first priority, not just our safety, but Narla’s too. People can be foolish and cruel, which is why Rob didn’t want the general public to know about her. That was another reason for the double cage, not just to keep Narla in, but to keep people out. There was only one other person, Rob’s friend Mike, who was allowed to care for Narla and did so during Rob’s illness. Mike was trained in Narla’s care and feeding and did a great job. Rob was so grateful to Mike. With all he was going through, many rounds of chemotherapy treatments, numerous infections and finally a bone marrow transplant, at least he knew Narla was in good hands.
Rob didn’t use Narla as a gimmick or sideshow attraction. Sure, people knew about her and would be curious to see her, but he never profited from her. He allowed “ordinary” people to come to see her in her cage, but never allowed media attention. He wouldn’t give interviews, allow media photos or any exploitation of her in any way. He didn’t want to glorify having a big cat in his yard. He didn’t want people to think that it is ok to try to keep a mountain lion as a pet. Rob knew that keeping her was not an ideal situation, but at that time, he felt he was doing what was best for her. When he made the decision to keep Narla, he took on a huge financial burden…food, supplements, veterinary care, etc. and he could have very easily used this beautiful animal as a way to make money, but that was never his way. He just wanted to give her the best life he could and keep her safe.
So, now you know Narla’s story. I felt that it was important for you to know that, while she may have been raised in someone’s backyard, she wasn’t just a passing fancy, she wasn’t a “pet“ in the conventional sense of the word. She was a lifelong responsibility taken on by a guy who made a hard decision based on limited options. Had she not been born to a breeder in Virginia who sells these animals to anyone with enough money to buy them, without any thought or concern for where they will live or how they will be treated, she would not have been in Rhode Island. If Rob hadn’t “rescued” her first, Big Cat Rescue may have found Narla in a horrible situation, if she had survived at all.
Thank you again for all that you do for these animals and, especially for Narla. She is always loved and surely missed.
If only they could speak to us in a language that we understand. Then we might know the horrors they have survived and be more inclined to protect others from enduring their fate.
I’ll share with you what I do know and hope that will inspire you to help these cougars and to do all you can to end the trade in exotic cats.
Back in the 90s, farmers Al and Kathy Abell, decided to start a breeding facility called Cougar Bluff Enterprises. They set up cages in their back yard in Elizabethtown, IL and filled them with a couple of cougars (Freddy & Sassy) a lion cub named Simba, some wolves and wolf hybrids. It was their plan to breed and sell and be surrounded by the kinds of wild animals they loved. The more they saw of what breeders and dealers were doing to animals, like the former owner who had beaten Sassy with a shovel, the more they realized that there was just no good reason to be breeding and selling exotics, so they never bred the big cats.
Having raised Simba the lion from a cub, they may have been complacent about the dangers of such interactions. Simba wasn’t even full grown before killing Al Abel. On that tragic day, Feb. 12, 2004 Kathy Abel came home to find the lion on the front porch of their home, her dog dead in the yard and no sign of her husband.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene as dark was closing in and the lion was on the edge of the 277,000 ac Shawnee National Forest. Kathy could not locate darts for her dart gun and the deputies were ordered to shoot Simba the lion rather than risk him killing someone in the park. It wasn’t until after Simba, body riddled by bullets, lay dying that Kathy discovered her husband dead on the floor of Simba’s cage. It had only taken one bite to the leg to cause him to bleed to death.
Fast forward six years and on Nov. 8, 2010 Chris Poole, of Big Cat Rescue came across a Facebook post saying that Kathy Abell had killed herself and left two cougars and an array of other domestic pets and farm animals with no one for miles around to care for them. We responded right away that we would come get the two cougars, Freddy and Sassy. It took a long 9 days to get the health certificate and import permit and to wait for Kathy’s family to bury her before we would be allowed to arrive on the scene. Meanwhile, Robin Parks, Field Volunteer for the Mountain Lion Foundation had coordinated with Kathy’s sister Kimberly Rapp and a local rehabber, Bev Shofstall to insure that the cats were being fed and cared for.
Big Cat Rescuers; President, Jamie Veronica Murdock, Operations Manager, Gale Ingham and Chris Poole hit the road on Nov. 17th driving straight through the night to Cave In Rock, IL which was the nearest lodge to the cougars. While en-route, Bev the rehabber emailed asking us to hurry as she wasn’t sure Freddy, the 14 year old and very frail cougar, could make it another day. Rescuers made the trip in record time but arrived well after dark. They coordinated with Kimberly Rapp to pick up the cats at first light on the morning of the 18th.
This is where YOU come in.
These cats have witnessed things that no one should ever have to see. It is only through your help that we can make sure their last years are the best years of their lives. Your voice in letters to your lawmakers asking for a ban on the private possession of big cats, at CatLaws.com is what will stop the future breeding, trading and discarding of big cats that led to this sad situation. Your donations are what make it possible for us to commit to an emergency rescue like this.
For PayPal send to CustomerService@BigCatRescue.org
Cougar Rescue Video
Time Line of a Mountain Lion Rescue
On Nov. 8, 2010 Big Cat Rescue videographer, Chris Poole came across this post on Facebook:
Mr. Robin Parks
Special Agent, NCIS (Ret)
Field Volunteer, Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF)
San Diego, California
Images courtesy of Bev Shofstall
This is a long shot, but….Late last night I received word that an acquaintance of mine (Kathy Abell) in southern Illinois apparently killed herself sometime last Thursday (11/4/2010). In addition to a number of pets and farm animals, she left behind two elderly cougars.I have known these cats for nearly 10 years. This is the weekend and I’ve been unable to contact any key player out there, but I did notify the USDA inspector from Indiana who occasionally monitors the cats. A family member told me that someone from the Illinois Dept of Natural Resources is trying to care for the cats, but I’ve not yet confirmed this. The sheriff’s office that responded to the scene has been less than helpful as the matter of the care and disposition of the cats is not their concern. I’ll be working the phones hot & heavy tomorrow morning.The USDA inspector has already suggested the cats may have to be put down, and I fully realize there just may not be any other solution. Both cats are fragile and stress easily, and one is terrified of men as he was beaten with a shovel by a man when he was a cub. I’m hoping that I will be given at least a few days to place these cats before someone makes a decision to shoot them.Do any of you know any accredited facility in Illinois or elsewhere in the Midwest that might be able to assume custody???Do any of you know any person in that area who might be able to lend some personal expertise as to the feeding and care of the animals. I’m sure the DNR person, will do her best, but won’t have a clue. Any other ideas??For whatever good it will do, I may be headed out there in the next few days to see if I can help, even if it’s only to ensure the cats are put down humanely. I may know more about the cats than any one else.
Nov. 8: I called Robin Parks and told him we could provide permanent care for the cougars and could come pick them up.
Robin said Bev Shofstall was going out to check on the cats and that she should be the main contact person for those coming in. Bev is a private citizen, not a DNR employee, who operates the Free Again Wildlife Rehab center in Carterville, Illinois. Shofstall has a cougar at her facility and has the basic skills and knowledge to keep the lid on this matter until some better solution can be reached.
Robin described the cats as:
1. Freddy, male, maybe 160 lbs, about 14 yrs old, declawed, the usual joint and arthritis stuff but not bad for his age, easily stressed by noise and strangers, easily managed by the threat of spraying him with a garden hose at one end while offering chicken at the other. He is probably already very stressed by what has happened.
2. Sassy, male, maybe 12, maybe 120 lbs, afraid of men as a result of a son-of-a-bitch beating him with a shovel handle when he was a cub, not bad with women, no real physical probs that I know of.
Nov. 9: Robin reported, “Freddy, the older cat, is not eating so well and is obviously grieved about Kathie not being there. He tends to lose weight kinda quickly when he does this, but usually bounces back ok.” He went on to say, “Kathie’s will passed nearly everything to a son, Neil Evans, by a earlier relationship, and that son (in Indiana or MI @ obit) has passed authority to Kimberly Rapp (sister) to handle all matters regarding property and animals and whatever. I once helped transfer Freddie from one enclosure to another. He didn’t want to cooperate, but gave in when the garden hose came out. It was done without any tranq’ing. Sassy might be a bit more problematic, but my feeling is no darting will be needed with him either. Can’t recall if I mentioned it earlier but…Freddie is declawed, but I think Sassy is still packin’. Both have plenty of teeth.”
The address for the site in Hardin County where the animals are is listed as Rt 2, Elizabethtown, Illinois, near Cave-in-Rock. The site is very close to a tourist area known as “The Garden of the Gods” in Karbers Ridge, Illinois, and is also a mile from a very small camp ground area called “Camp Cadiz”.
Nov. 9: Just so you know what we are up against when we try to rescue a big cat. The exploiters would rather the cats die or go to some backyard jail cell than see us make case after case for why the private possession of these cats should be banned. Robin said 6 people he didn’t know called him with comments that characterized us as “the anti-Christ”, “pagan sacrifices”, “gold digging slut”, and said “her facilities are pig sties”, better the cats be dead than with her, she’s only a “hoarder”, she’s only trying to advance her own personal agenda at the expense of the others trying to help, and worse. He also said he knew BS when he smelled it.
Nov. 10: Robin reports: “Bev Shofstall did visit the cats yesterday. Things are as good as can be expected, but Freddy is not eating, and it’s taking a toll. He appears a bit weaker and all the stress has probably made worse whatever joint/bone/age problems he has. I have seen him go thru this before, so we shouldn’t write him off just yet, but for SURE he’ll need some TLC and handling with kid gloves. Bev brought some very fresh venison for him, but he showed no interest. She will visit the cats again tomorrow (Thursday, the day of the memorial service). Sassy, on the other hand, appears to be doing ok, still has a good appetite, and his usual cranky disposition. He just may not be a problem to transfer at all.”
Nov. 1: Kathy G. Abell, age 56, died at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5, 2010, at her residence and was cremated and memorialized today.
Nov. 12, 2010 Robin let me know that Ann Marie Houser took over from Elizabeth Taylor as the USDA agent involved. He said Bev had returned to visit the cats the day before and that “I talked with Bev Shofstall a few minutes ago. She was at the site yesterday, and Freddy seems to be doing a bit better. He’s eaten some venison and other goodies and appears a bit more alive. He has issues, but it’s likely he’s mostly been reacting to the loss of his Kathie and all the strangers being around. Sassy, the other cat, seems to be doing fine.”
I told Kimberly Rapp I would need her to fax me a health certificate for the cats so I could apply for a FL import permit.
Nov. 13: A vet came out to inspect the cats for transport and Kimberly faxed it to me. I filled out the FWC permit application, attached the health certificate and faxed to the Florida Wildlife Commission. Our “friend” at the FWC, Capt. John West has retired, so I was worried about how long the permit would take as they claim to be running two weeks behind on them.
Nov. 15: I called the FWC to see if they got my fax over the weekend and they had, but complained that Precious was on vacation and that Capt. Linda Harrison was overloaded with permit applications. I explained the dire situation again, as I had in the application, and asked that they give Freddy and Sassy priority. I then contacted Capt. Harrison and asked her to sort through the pile to find our application.
I asked Kimberly Rapp if she wanted us to pay for Great Dane carriers locally that she could put in the cages for the cats to get used to, but she said there was no way to get them through the gates.
Nov. 16: The FWC issued our import permit. I let Kimberly Rapp and Robin Parks know that we were awaiting Kimberly’s directive on when we should arrive. We sat on pins and needle all day waiting for a response. Finally around 9pm Kimberly called and asked if we could be there the day after. She and Bev had gone to the cats and because the weather had been in the 20s and 30s. All the cats had for shelter was a dog-loo on a hard floor so she had wanted to put a rug in for Freddy, but he wouldn’t have it, so she removed it. They had been working in the freezing rain and she had contacted us as soon as she got in.
I called Jamie and let her know that Kimberly was taking Thursday off to be there and wanted our crew to be there before noon. That meant our crew would have to leave first thing Wed. the morning of the 17th. Jamie contacted Chris and Gale and let them know to pack their bags and bring their lunch.
Nov. 17: By 7am the Big Cat Rescuers were on their way to Cave In Rock, IL. They took turns driving and sleeping and by 6pm they were in Nashville and getting sandwiches to eat on the road. One tire didn’t look too good, but everything else was going fine and they hoped to be at the lodge by midnight.
Bev emailed me during the day asking when we would be coming. It seems that neither Kimberly, nor Robin told her we were already on the way. She said that she thought Freddy was much closer to death than previously thought. She was worried that he wouldn’t make it another night.
During the course of the day I learned that Kathy Abell was not the first person to die at this facility. Robin confided, “I first met Kathie and her husband Al sometime in the late 90?s when her place (a very small place, barely even a mom & pop operation) was called Cougar Bluff Enterprises. They had a wolf or two, some hybrids or two, a cougar or two, and (a bit later I think) one huge Barbary lion (just huge, every bit as big as a Siberian). I liked the cats, know how things were in Hardin County, and offered to work at their place doing anything they needed anytime I was back there (my parents live about 30 miles from there and I came back 2x/year). In all the years I knew them, no one before or since, has ever offered to volunteer for them.
Now…no doubt about it, at the time I first met them, their plan was to breed the wolves (not so much the cats, as I recall) and sell them. They pretty much saw this as a business.
However, also about the time I met them, they started going through a change of philosophy. Over a couple of years, they quickly learned how many neglected animals there are out there in that world, how badly they often get treated, and how so much of this terrible situation was fueled by the breeders. So….they dropped their plans and converted to the “non breeder” point of view. They never bred any animal.
Almost without exception, the cats they got were “throw away’s” or badly neglected animals that came from breeders or other mom & pop places. Sassy was one of those, and had been badly abused by it’s owner. The Barbary was also one of these. It’s a long story, but some butthead somewhere got hold of the lion with he was very young, kept it in the garage for about 3 weeks until the cat got big enough to eat people, and then they basically told Al & Kathie they would kill the lion if they didn’t take it from them. So, they did….and got just waaaay over their heads.
It was that lion, somewhere around 2003 (it was 2004) that ended up killing Al. It’s a long story and there’s some fine points that are still not known, but Al apparently went into the cage ALONE to do some cleaning, and apparently didn’t secure the outer perimeter lock. The cat maybe knocked thru a inner perimeter lock, bit Al just one on the leg, then strolled out of the compound. Again, long story, but Al bled out before anybody got there several hours later. Hardin County cops came and killed the lion, who by that time was waiting at the porch for Kathie to get home. Sad.
So….that’s kinda the story here. This thing did indeed start out as a “breeding” story, but they did totally convert their thinking many years before the sad recent events. In some respects, it’s a redemption story.”
These were the two news articles that ran about the death of Al Abell in 2004
Man killed by pet African lion
Associated Press 02/13/2004
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ill. (AP) — A Hardin County man who kept exotic animals was apparently attacked and killed Thursday by a pet African lion, authorities said.
Al Abell was apparently changing the bedding of the lion’s pen when he was attacked, Sheriff Carl Cox told The Paducah Sun.
According to Cox, Abell’s wife returned to the couple’s home near Elizabethtown in southeastern Illinois shortly before 6 p.m., saw the lion out of its pen and called the sheriff’s office. Deputies killed the lion and then discovered Abell lying nearby, according to the newspaper.
Abell was taken to Hardin County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:37 p.m., Coroner Roger Little said. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday, he said.
Cox said he visited the property about three years ago with state officials to make sure the Abells had the proper permits for the tigers, wolves and other exotic animals the couple kept on the property. He said he believed the lion that attacked Abell was a cub at the time of that visit.
Jeffrey Bonner, the president of the St. Louis Zoo, said Abell’s death illustrates just how dangerous wild animals can be.
“Even after centuries of breeding, you still can’t eradicate behavior that’s natural for them,” he said. “Lions hunt for their meat and kill it; it’s what they do. To think that an owner of any big cat, even after several years, can really domesticate them is, of course, naive.”
Error with lion led to farmer’s death
By James Janega, Tribune staff reporter.
The two had raised Simba since he was a cub, and Al Abell must have felt comfortable around the almost full-grown male lion, Kathie Abell said.
Among the things the government oversees with animal exhibitors is how powerful animals like lions and other big cats are enclosed.
Big cats are expected to have two pens: A larger one with shelter in which to live and a smaller “shift pen” into which the animal can be moved while the larger enclosure is cleaned. The gate between the two must have a lock, and anyone who works around the animals must be trained in how to safely move the animals from one pen to the other. Typically, experts say, the maneuver is done by at least two people.
But on Feb. 12, 2004, Al Abell was alone when he moved the lion from its enclosure and into the shifting pen, and “did not lock [the] shift pen while cleaning shelter and surrounding area,” the animal care inspection report noted later.
“He never cleaned any large-field enclosure by himself till this tragic event occurred,” the report said.
Police reports, as well as interviews with Kathie Abell and southern Illinois law enforcement officials shortly after Al Abell died revealed the tense twilight standoff that day between nervous police officers and an agitated lion on the edge of Shawnee National Forest’s 277,000 acres.
It took a half-hour for police officers to fly up the gravel road to the farm after Kathie Abell’s call.
In that time, a frantic Kathie Abell had found a tranquilizer gun, but not the darts.
When Hardin County sheriff’s deputies arrived, she knew her dog had been killed, but couldn’t find her husband.
The Abells’ menagerie of wildcats, lorded over by a limping 8-year-old cougar named Freddy, paced and cowered in their pens. The wolves and several huskies cried from cages at the tree line below.
Standing in the Abells’ fenced yard with his back to Freddy’s cage, Hardin County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Reed aimed an AK-47 at Simba.
Deputy Chad Vinyard and Cave In Rock Police Officers Mike and Terry Dutton ran up behind him, Vinyard on a radio to the county’s chief deputy, Bill Stark, asking for ideas.
Stark was speeding in a car with Sheriff Carl Cox, who said he and Stark peered into the failing February light at the dense forest rushing past their car and made a decision.
“We didn’t want the animal loose,” Cox said.
Stark told them that if they had a clear shot, to take it. “Just make it a kill shot,” he told them over the radio.
The police officers turned to Abell. Fifteen years of raising big cats came to a single tearful nod. Vinyard counted to three.
At the first volley, Simba jumped 10 feet, two wounds in his head. Slinking toward a shed, the lion was hit again by Dutton and Reed. Officers came to within a few paces as the lion finally collapsed, and two more shots rang out. Simba stopped breathing.
Vinyard’s voice crackled over the radio.
“The lion’s down,” he said.
That was when Kathie Abell found her husband, noted Reed and Dutton. “We heard Kathie Abell screaming approximately 50 yards away,” Dutton wrote.
Paramedics tried CPR, then evacuated Al Abell by air without ever hearing a sound from his lungs. His skin was cold, dry and pale. The coroner determined he had died in minutes, his life pouring out the bite wound in his left thigh.
Kathie Abell gave the lion’s carcass to zoology students at Southern Illinois University, where the heaping, frozen body was thawed and dissected two months later.
HARDIN CO., IL — Authorities say an Illinois man who kept exotic animals was attacked and killed Thursday by a pet African lion.
Sheriff Carl Cox says Al Abell was apparently changing the bedding of thelion’s pen when he was attacked. Cox says Abell’s wife returned to the couple’s home near Elizabethtown in southeastern Illinois, shortly before 6 p-m. She saw the lion out of its pen and called the sheriff’s office.
Deputies killed the lion and then discovered Abell lying nearby. Coroner Roger Little says he was taken to Hardin County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:37 p.m.
An autopsy is scheduled for today. Jeffrey Bonner, the president of the St. Louis Zoo, says Abell’s death illustrates just how dangerous wild animals can be.
Nov. 17: 8:45pm Big Cat Rescuers arrive at the Cave In Rock Lodge. It is a tiny, yet historic lodge nestled in the Shawnee National Park. Cave In Rock Park is named for the 55-foot-wide cave that was carved out of the limestone rock by water thousands of years ago. Following the Revolutionary War, this immense recess came to serve as the ideal lair for outlaws, bandits and river pirates who preyed on the people traveling along the Ohio River.One of the most ambitious of these ruthless malefactors was Samuel Mason. Once an officer in George Washington’s Revolutionary Army, in 1797 he converted the cavern into a tavern which he called the Cave-In-Rock. From this apparently innocent and inviting position, Mason would dispatch his cohorts upriver to befriend unwary and bewildered travelers with offers of help and guidance. As they neared the cave, these henchmen would disable their boats or force them toward the yawning hollow, where the hapless pilgrims would be robbed, or worse. Few victims lived to tell their story.
By the early 1800s, following the demise of the Mason Gang, the cave sheltered the even more notorious Harpe Brothers, a pair of killers fleeing execution in Kentucky. They continued their personal reign of thievery and murder in Illinois, using the cave as hideout and headquarters until they too were killed.
It’s interesting to note that the cave served as a backdrop for a scene in the movie “How The West Was Won.” The scene was a near-accurate portrayal of how, in the 18th and 19th centuries, ruthless bandits used the cave to lure unsuspecting travelers to an untimely end.
Although other desperadoes continued to take advantage of the secrecy and seclusion afforded by Cave-In-Rock, by the mid-1830s the quickening westward expansion of civilization and the steady growth in the local population and commerce had destroyed or driven out the “river rats” and the cave began to serve as temporary shelter for other pioneers on their way west.
Nov. 19: 3:52 am the Big Cat Rescue team and Freddy and Sassy the cougars arrived at Big Cat Rescue, but it was too dark to safely let them out, so everyone slept for a couple of hours and waited for dawn.
6:30 am The staff, volunteer committe and board were invited to see the release, but it had been sent out so late that only Chelsea, Howard and I came to watch Jamie, Gale, Chris & Chelsea release Freddy and Sassy into their new, spacious, lakeside homes. Video will be coming soon; once Chris has some time to sleep, get married, renew his driver’s license and piece together the footage and interviews. Meanwhile, a picture (or two) is worth a thousand words.
6:30 pm Jamie hand fed Freddy and Sassy from a stick tonight to get a good look at their teeth and to begin a bonding process with them. Our main diet is a prepared ground diet of muscle meat, organs, bones and vitamins but it will be a gradual process to move these cats to the healthier fare. She gave them a few balls on the end of the stick and they weren’t crazy about it. They each ate a chicken leg quarter, a plate of necks, and several chunks of beef. Jamie said they would have eaten more, but she didn’t want to overload their systems, so she left some more of the ground diet, so that they wouldn’t go to bed hungry. The ground diet comes in three fat content levels, so we may try them on the higher content to get them liking it and then scale back once they are in good condition again. Both cats have been very calm and acting like they have known us forever, so all is well tonight at Big Cat Rescue.
Big Cat Rescue is an educational sanctuary and a home for more than 100 big cats 12802 Easy St. Tampa, FL 33625 813.920.4130
Sassyfrass Vet Visit 2014
Sassyfrass the cougar didn’t come out to eat last night, so we knew something was up and set an appointment to see the vet.
Sassyfrass the cougar has failing kidneys, and is incontinent, so he pees on himself in his sleep and then lays in it.
He is old and arthritic, so he can’t groom himself any more and his fur gets matted.
We have to shave him once a year so we decide to do it while he is at the vet’s office under sedation.
Volunteers load up Sassyfrass the cougar and take him into our on site cat hospital to await transfer to the van.
He will be weighed so we know how much sedation to give at the vet’s office. He weighs 134 lbs.
We will check his blood again to see how much his kidney failure has progressed.
His transport cage is supported by long poles so the keepers don’t get their hands near him.
Every time we go to the vet we try to choose an Intern or Volunteer to go with us for their education.
Gale put Michael to work, helping her shave Sassyfrass while the vet and vet techs did their work up on him.
Sassyfrass’ breath would knock you over, and they thought there must be bad teeth, but after cleaning and X-rays, they saw that none needed to be pulled.
Sassyfrass does have one eye with blood in the chamber, so he is being treated for that and he had ulcerations on his tongue; but no obvious cause. The rest of his blood work was sent out for further testing.