Where the wild things are
Orphaned cougar cub settles into Weimar home
By: Jenna Nielsen, Journal Staff Writer
Monday, February 19, 2007 10:50 PM PST
Gabe Kerschner, co-owner of Wild Things, lets Cheyenne, a 6-month-old mountain lion cub, roam around his Weimar compound Sunday. Akim Aginsky/ Auburn JournalWEIMAR - A 6-month-old mountain lion cub has found a temporary home in Weimar.
Gabe and Barbie Kerschner, owners and operators of Wild Things in Weimar, are accustomed to caring for wild animals.
The couple harbors injured wild animals and those which individuals have tried to keep as illegal pets until a better facility or permanent home can be found.
When contacted by the California Department of Fish and Game to lend a hand caring for the baby cougar, the Kerschners took the cub, which they refer to as "Cheyenne," in immediately.
"We don't know too much about how she was found but apparently she was discovered in the woods in Grass Valley," Gabe Kerschner said this week. "Normally you will never see a kitten alone, they will usually always be with the mother. As they get older they will wander with the mother and learn to hunt, but obviously something must have occurred to separate her from her mom."
Cheyenne currently weighs 18 pounds and could get up to about 60 and 80 pounds once she is fully-grown. She is on a full meat diet and eats everything from rats and rabbits to chicken and beef. She is also given a calcium supplement for her health.
The playful cat, who allowed Journal photographer Akim Aginsky to pet her and photograph her up close, gets along with the Kerschners' Australian shepherd, Bagüs, but she doesn't have contact with the other animals.
"We socialized her with the dog when she was young, but we limit her contact with the other animals," Gabe Kerschner said. "She sees them and knows they are there, but her predatory instinct will only amplify as she gets older."
The Kerschners do let her roam her around off the leash and take her on walks, but she is caged and separated from the other animals the rest of the time.
The Kerschners currently have four other mountain lions living on their property in the company of a beaver named Waldo, a Kangaroo named Billabong and two brother baboons named Otto and Ross.
The couple doesn't know how long it will take to find Cheyenne a home because zoos often don't take in California wildlife.
"They don't show and feature the animals that live among us," Gabe Kerschner said. "They show the exotic animals from other countries."
While the animals, like Cheyenne, can seem more like a cute cuddly kitten at a young age, the reality is that more than 100 mountain lions are killed in the state every year because of safety threats and the Kerschners want to warn the public to be cautious when living in mountain country.
"We get a lot of calls from people asking what to do if they see a mountain lion," Barbie Kerschner said. "A lot of people just don't know how to respond."
The classification of mountain lions in the California Fish and Game code allow for them to be shot in the act of inflicting injury, molesting or killing livestock or domesticated animals with notice to the Department of Fish and Game within 72 hours.
Property owners can also apply for a depredation permit from the department for threatening lions.
In 2004, there were 231 depredation permits issued and 115 lions killed in the state.
According to the Department of Fish and Game's Web site, www.dfg.ca.org, there have been 14 mountain lion attacks on humans since 1890, with six resulting in fatalities.
The most recent fatal local mountain lion attack was in 1994 when 40-year-old mother of two Barbara Schoener was killed while traveling alone on the Ballbearing Trail in the rugged Auburn Lake Recreation Area near El Dorado County's Auburn Lake Trails.
A recent non-fatal but highly publicized attack involved 70-year hiker, Jim Hamm of Fortuna, who was mauled by a mountain lion in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Eureka last month.
Hamm's wife, Nell Hamm, smashed the cat in the snout with a large branch and stabbed it with a pen to fend off the attack after her husband endured severe bites and scratches to his head and face.
Hamm was released from a San Francisco hospital last Wednesday and is expected to fully recover.
Wildlife Incident Reports are filed when the Department of Fish and Game is contacted with a lion sighting. They receive roughly 400 annually.
Only three percent of reports turn out to be an imminent threat to safety and result in a lion's death. More are explainable through understanding mountain lion behavior or modifying people's behavior, such as bringing in pets at night.
Fewer than three percent of all mountain lion incidents result in a lion being identified and killed for public safety reasons, according to the Department of Fish and Game.
People see lions in the wild all the time and don't call us, but they don't need too," Patrick Foy, information officer with the Department of Fish and Game, told the Journal in a previous interview. "Lions are moving from one place to another and our general response is people are lucky seeing them in the wild."
But attracting them into human territory, where they can pose a threat to livestock and pets is another matter.
If the lions have access to human food and garbage, they want more and more, according to officials with the Department of Fish and Game. They then lose their natural fear of humans and can become aggressive.
The best you can do to ensure your safety, the Kerschners say is to educate yourself.
"Know what they look like and learn how to respond if you do come in contact with one," Gabe Kerschner said. "Educating yourself is your best defense."
The Journal's Jenna Nielsen can be reached at email@example.com.
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