Another Oregon cougar orphan sent to zoo

Orphaned Lane County cougar cubs heading to new homes

By Katy Muldoon, The Oregonian
December 17, 2009, 7:44PM

For the third time this year and the second time this month, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife called the Oregon Zoo on Thursday with a request: Could the zoo accommodate an orphaned cougar? The female that arrived Thursday is sister to the cub pictured, a 10-week-old, 13-pound male.The cougar approached. The homeowner fired. And that’s the short explanation for why two strikingly elegant cougar cubs, dark spots accenting their golden coats, ended up at the Oregon Zoo over the past week and a half.

Their wild-to-captive saga began Dec. 6, according to Brian Wolfer of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, when a homeowner living near the Springfield Country Club let his dogs out. The man saw a cougar emerge from the brush and stalk his dogs. He grabbed a gun. From his patio, he hollered to scare off the big cat but it kept coming.

He pulled the trigger.

When the Oregon State Police arrived, Wolfer said, they found the dead cougar 27 feet from the man’s patio and determined he broke no law, legitimately defending his pets.

But police found more: a deer carcass — one the cougar killed on the golf course and dragged into the brush 50 yards from the man’s home. Up a nearby tree was a cougar cub.

Police dialed Wolfer, the state’s district wildlife biologist, who arrived with a tranquilizer gun. He darted the blue-eyed cub, a male approximately 10 weeks old and 13 pounds, and shipped him to Portland’s zoo.

State wildlife officials frequently collaborate with the zoo, particularly finding homes for orphaned cougars or bears.

In the wild, the cats, also called pumas or mountain lions, nurse for at least three months. Their mothers, who don’t share territory with other adults, introduce them to meat at about 6 weeks old and the young spend the next year or two learning to hunt with her. An orphaned cub cannot survive in the wild.

The state’s cougar population is healthy enough to sustain the loss of cubs, but “I don’t think the public wants to see us euthanize a kitten,” Wolfer said, “if we can place it with a top-notch, credible, accredited facility.”

Cougar litters can include up to six young, though one or two is more common. Wolfer searched the area. He couldn’t find others.

Five days later, a caller said they’d seen a cougar cub cross a road in the same area. Wolfer returned with a hound trained to hunt cougars, but couldn’t locate the cub. He set live traps, without luck.

The biologist noticed that something kept feeding on the deer carcass, which remained where the mother cougar put it. He set up a camera, caught images of a cub dining on the deer and baited a live trap next to the carcass.

Late Wednesday or early Thursday, 10 days after losing its mother, the cub stepped into the trap.

Thursday afternoon the robust, 14 1/2-pound female cougar arrived at the zoo.

Like her brother — and another orphaned female cub rescued near Klamath Falls in June — this youngster will dine on bowls of formula until its ready to move to a new home.

Michelle Schireman, puma population manager for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and a keeper at the Oregon Zoo, coordinates a list of AZA-accredited zoos eager to adopt orphaned cougar cubs. Last week’s is headed to the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas, and the cub that arrived Thursday will make her new home at Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, Mass.

“Everyone,” Schireman said, “loves big cats.”


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Virginia zoo remains closed because of winter storm

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Roanoke zoo closes for a time, but animals are safe, snug

Mill Mountain Zoo will be closed until at least Wednesday because of last weekend’s storm — but the animals are fine.

“We’ve had a staff member spending the night up there,” zoo spokeswoman Lisa Uhl said. “But most of them [the animals] are used to this climate, so they’re enjoying the snow. This is actually a treat for them. They create little snow bunkers.”

She said Bo, the zoo’s wolverine, likes snow so much that staff members sometimes make snow for him or give him blocks of ice to play with in the wintertime.

Some of the animals had already been moved inside for winter, Uhl said.

Others were moved because of fears the heavy snow could damage their exhibit spaces, said Dave Orndorff, the zoo’s director and general curator. He said the zoo’s Siberian cranes were moved to the men’s bathroom — which is heated. The red-tailed hawks were brought inside as well.

Orndorff said a zookeeper spent Friday night at the zoo, during the storm, while the rest of the zoo staff went up Saturday in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. They have spent the past several days shoveling sidewalks and clearing exhibit spaces. Although some animals, such as the snow leopard and red wolf, are fine with the snow, others require dry ground, he said.

Orndorff said the zoo will open again when all pathways are cleared and people can visit safely. For more information call the zoo at 343-3241 or visit

— Kevin Kittredge


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Abuse complaint against Canadian zoo continues to grow

13 more join abuse complaint against private zoo

Updated: Thu Dec. 17 2009 21:11:24

Darcy Wintonyk,

Thirteen more former employees have joined an animal abuse complaint against a world-class conservation centre in Langley, B.C.

Twenty-one people, including four current employees, have lobbed an arsenal of allegations against the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre. The centre, which cares for rare species like the Fishing Cat and Vancouver Island Marmot, is accused of euthanizing animals using inhumane methods, including using non-lethal shooting, box-cutters and hammers.

Todd Streu, who represents the group, said the additional complainants came forward to corroborate information first brought forward by eight people last week.

“We’ve bolstered the ranks and I hope this will counteract the claims this is just a group of disgruntled employees,” he told Thursday.

In an interview earlier this week, owner Gord Blankstein said Mountain View had done nothing wrong, and all of the allegations against him were false. Blankstein could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Streu said the group has documentation from the facility showing a total of 207 animals have died at the facility in the past five years.

Malcolm Weatherston, a spokesperson for Mountain View, said the facility has nothing to hide.

“Every birth and death is on record — as any facility does. We’re dealing with each of the issues that have been raised.”

The investigation

An investigation into the centre’s methods was launched two weeks ago by the SPCA after it received a complaint from animal protection charity Zoo Check.

The officer in charge of the investigation, Eileen Dreever, said staff expects the probe to be lengthy, with no resolution expected for several weeks. She said Blankstein was cooperating fully.

Earlier this week, B.C.’s Environment Minister, Barry Penner, said his staff would work with the SPCA to determine if the allegations were merited.

But the SPCA told a conservation officer with the ministry informed the agency they were not going to be looking into the investigation.

“They sent an email saying they would no longer be looking into the case,” Marcie Moriarty, general manger of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA, said.

“We have not been informed of why.”

Suntanu Dalal, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, said late Thursday that staff will visit Mountain View on Friday and conduct an inspection. A conservation officer will also attend.

“That is what we are doing at this stage – gathering information to inform our investigation,” Dalal said.

The allegations

Thomas Knight, a former bird and hoofstock manager at Mountain View, told he spoke publicly because of what he described as the “horrific euthanization” of an addax, an African antelope, he saw while working with the animals.

Knight said a staff member hit the animal on the head with a claw hammer repeatedly when attempts to kill it using a small-caliber gun were unsuccessful.

“It got away from him and it was bleeding and screaming and running around the yard.”

The animal was eventually killed after having its throat slit, he said. The whole process took 30 minutes.

Knight, a Princeton University graduate with a master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, was laid off in mid-October and was given a month’s compensation.

He rejects the suggestion former employees are speaking out because of a grudge against Blankstein, and said he’s pleased more people are coming out of the woodwork.

“I’m sure its going to be very difficult for all of us. But I can sleep at night and I have to do what had to be done,” he said.

“I would like to see changes put in place so this kind of thing don’t happen again. Animals need to get proper care. This isn’t very much to ask for.”

The group has compiled case files dating back to 2004. The employees say they are only coming forward now because they recently became unionized, and feel their jobs will be protected.

Mountain View was co-awarded the Conservation Award by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) in 2006.


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OPINION: "Why zoos are in crisis"

What’s good for the box office isn’t always good for the animals

Margaret Wente

Published on Monday, Dec. 14, 2009 7:08PM EST
Last updated on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009 3:31AM EST

Three weeks ago, Tara, the matriarch of the fast-dwindling elephant herd at the Toronto Zoo, was found dying in her enclosure. Staff tried to get her back on her feet, but she never got up. She was 41.
Zoo-raised elephants don’t do very well. They’re prone to arthritis, lameness, tuberculosis, herpes, infanticide, behavioural disturbances, obesity and infertility. They die younger than wild elephants, and are not self-sustaining in captivity. “Bringing elephants into zoos profoundly impairs their viability,” says Georgia Mason, an expert on animal behaviour at the University of Guelph.

At the Edmonton Valley Zoo, activists are demanding that the lone remaining elephant, Lucy, be sent somewhere she can have company. Her companion, Samantha, was shipped off to a breeding program in 2007. Elephants are highly social and suffer in isolation. Lucy also has arthritis and respiratory problems.

The Calgary Zoo has problems too. Accidents, illness and human error have recently killed off a capybara (a type of large rodent), 41 cownose rays, two baby elephants, a hippopotamus and some gorillas. Although the director says these incidents are unrelated, outside experts have been called in to investigate.

The trouble with zoos is as old as zoos themselves. What’s good for the box office isn’t always good for the animals. In the age of Animal Planet and heightened awareness over animal welfare, it’s time to ask: What are zoos good for any more?

The first public zoo was at Paris’s Jardin des Plantes, founded in 1793. In the early days, zoos aimed to have as many specimens as possible, because there was no other way for ordinary people to see them. Until 50 years ago, most zoos were menageries, with many species crammed into small spaces. The science of animal behaviour changed that.

Now, zoos are designed to show animals in something resembling their natural habitat. They developed agendas to promote conservation and protect endangered species. They set up international programs to breed captive lions, tigers and elephants, so they wouldn’t have to take replacements from the wild. They also got incredibly expensive to run.

“We created these monsters, and so where do we find the operating money?” asks Peter Karsten, who ran the Calgary Zoo in the 1970s and ’80s.

All zoos rely on public subsidies, and all face increasing competition for the public’s dollars. They are caught between warring philosophies and factions. On one side are business types, many zookeepers and, in Toronto’s case, city councillors, who believe elephants, tigers and borrowed Chinese pandas are essential to attract crowds and revenue. On the other side are scientists and animal activists who point out that despite our best efforts, certain species probably will never thrive in zoos.

“Why would you build a zoo in a northern climate to exhibit tropical animals?” asks Mr. Karsten. When he ran the Calgary Zoo, he got rid of the costly and out-of-place tigers, baboons and elephants in order to focus on cold-climate and native species, which were also cheaper to maintain. After he left, the exotica were brought back. In 2004, an infant elephant was rejected by her mother and died of an overwhelming infection; in 2007, another elephant died of a serious virus.

The Toronto Zoo has also faced turmoil at the top. Its board is dominated by city councillors, who are not known for their animal expertise or their fiscal prudence. (They have refused the city’s request for across-the-board budget cuts.) Board chair Raymond Cho says he’s determined to rebuild the elephant exhibit, which is now down to three elderly females.

Mr. Karsten doesn’t think that’s such a good idea. “Values change,” he says. “The bar is higher now, and the public is more informed.” We now know that elephants are capable of complex thought and deep feeling, and that the emotional attachments they form with one another may rival our own. They don’t belong in zoos any more than we do.


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Pallas cats find temporary home at Virginia Zoo

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mill Mountain Zoo welcomes feisty felines
By Kevin Kittredge

Chin-Li was shy.

Alexey was cranky.

“If you want to breed, you’re going to have to be a little nicer,” advised Lisa Uhl, Mill Mountain Zoo’s public relations manager.

Say hello to the two newest cats at Mill Mountain Zoo. Chin-Li and Alexey are Pallas cats. They look quite a bit like house cats, with more fluff.

If the animals seemed a little overwhelmed by their surroundings last week, well, they had reason. The 7-year-old cats arrived here recently from the Denver Zoo, which is undergoing renovation, said Dave Orndorff, Mill Mountain Zoo director and general curator. They are expected to breed here as well — assuming Alexey gets over his attitude.

From the zoo’s off-exhibit holding area, where they will remain until the zoo completes the cats’ new exhibit space in the spring, Alexey glared at a photographer Friday morning. He bared his teeth. He made a variety of sounds, some distinctly catlike, others not so much. The mating call of a Pallas cat is said to resemble a cross between a dog barking and the hoot of an owl.

“They have some very bizarre vocalizations,” Orndorff said.

Chin-Li, meanwhile, stayed mostly in her box, peeking out with one eye from time to time. Despite her shyness, she can take care of herself. When Alexey tried to come in, she swatted him away.

Pallas cats are named after German naturalist Peter Pallas, who discovered them in 1776. Also known as manuls and steppe cats, they are native to central Asia, and live in high altitudes on a diet of small rodents and birds. They were once thought to be the ancestors of Persian cats, which they resemble, but that is not true, Orndorff said.

The cats were long hunted for their fur, but have protected status now in most of their natural habitat. International trade of their fur has largely ceased, according to various sources, including, an international group of cat specialists.

The cats are considered threatened, but not endangered, Orndorff said.

There are only 53 Pallas cats in North America, however, and only five breeding pairs, Orndorff said. Alexey and Chin-Li have produced kittens together in the past.

The cats arrive at a time when the zoo’s cat population has suffered losses. Ruby the tiger, perhaps the zoo’s best-known inhabitant, died in 2006, and Natasha, a snow leopard, died this week. Both animals lived long lives and died of natural causes.

Despite the resemblance of Pallas cats to house cats, they aren’t very cuddly. Orndorff said the cats can be very aggressive.

“I just want to go in there and feel their fur,” said Uhl, watching the new cats in their cage. But she added, “That’s probably not a good idea.”


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