A week ago, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) received a report about three mountain lion kittens that were believed to have been orphaned. The sighting was from the small rural town of Callahan in the Salmon Mountains, about an hour South of the California-Oregon border.
The three tiny cubs were seen during the daytime walking along the Scott River. Mountain lion mothers frequently stash their cubs in rock outcroppings or bushy makeshift dens while hunting. Kittens are accompanied by their mother less than fifty percent of the time. CDFW states that, "more often, the department receives calls on suspected 'abandoned wildlife' when in fact the mother is just foraging or hunting for food."
Giving the lion family the benefit of the doubt, CDFW personnel decided to wait and see if the cubs' mother would return to her offspring. Unfortunately, the next day another resident saw the cubs, still without their mother and looking even more distressed.
"The cubs were shivering and meowing all morning. It was obvious the cubs has been abandoned and needed help," CDFW reported.
A CDFW biologist brought the helpless kittens down to Region 2 Headquarters (Sacramento area), where they began receiving veterinary care. The cubs are only a few months old and require a lot of care and attention.
"After each meal," a combination of kitten formula and meat, "the cubs are wiped down head to tail (and underneath) by staff to mimic what their mother would do." This assistance keeps their digestive system moving.
The three kittens didn't have much time to learn "wild puma skills" from their mother and they will likely become imprinted on their human caregivers now. This makes them not good candidates for rehabilitating to release back into the wild.
California law currently does not allow mountain lions of any age to be rehabilitated and released. But on January 1st all that will change. Senate Bill 132, signed by Governor Brown in September, will change California's mountain lion laws in 2014 and allow the state to rehabilitate injured and orphaned lions, and return them to the wild.
At this time, Florida and Colorado are the only two states with programs that rehab lions until they are healthy and old enough to be set loose in the wild. Cubs younger than 6 months old are typically kept in captivity permanently.
This Sunday, December 1st, California will celebrate the passage of its new mountain lion law at an event in Half Moon Bay (click here for event flier). In addition to authorizing the rehabilitation of mountain lions, the legislation also requires that lions accidentally wandering into town cannot be killed unless they are acting aggressively towards people.
CDFW has preemptively revised their internal mountain lion guidelines to reflect many of the upcoming legal changes. Please take a moment to thank CDFW Director Bonham for adopting the new, more humane, mountain lion policies. And, let him know we all appreciate the time and hard work CDFW is putting in to rescue orphaned mountain lion cubs.
Director Charlton Bonham
1416 Ninth Street
12th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814