Why Can't Mountain Lion Cubs Be Released?

Oakland Zoo | Friday, January 19, 2018

by Amy Gotliffe, Director, Conservation


photo: Steven Gotz


"Why can't the Mountain Lion Cubs be released?" 


Such a good question, and one I had myself. Many species can be rehabilitated and released back into the wild, why can’t a mountain lion cub do the same?


One of the reasons I have chosen Oakland Zoo as a place to do my conservation work for 16 years is that we are an “animals first” institution. Like all of my colleagues, I want to do what is most respectful for each individual animal. We work with and release California condors, mountain yellow legged frogs, Puerto Rican crested toads and western pond turtles. Could we rescue and rehabilitate a mountain lion cub, then release her too?


I tapped my expert connections in the field, who all generously responded to my post-work day inquiries.


Zara McDonald is at the Bay Area Puma Project and is an expert in mountain lion research- she explained, “Mountain lion cubs need up to two years with their mom in order to learn how to survive and thrive. Survival training by humans is not possible.”


photo: Steven Gotz


Lynn Cullens is the Director of the Mountain Lion Foundation, and has worked tirelessly for the betterment of mountain lions all over the country. She confirmed Zara’s findings, “Mountain lion kittens stay with their mothers for 18-24 months, learning skills to survive.”


I asked Lynn what it would take to do this kind of work.

“We’d need a huge enclosure to support a whole variety of prey species – everything from deer mice to deer – to provide the same training."

Lynn even brought Winston Vickers, UC Davis veterinarian who studies mountain lions into the conversation.

Said Winston, It is really difficult to mimic a mouther mountain lion tackling a deer.”

Well, that make sense.


Lynn explained further:

Once the kitten was released, it would be at a disadvantage to dispersing cats of the same age who grew up in the wild, and at the mercy of established adults. There are far too many orphaned kittens to effectively rehabilitate."


And then Lynn added, “Wouldn’t it be better to reduce the human activities that cause the orphaning in the first place?”



I agreed here. This is something we can do. We can work together to protect biodiversity and genetics of our California lions by creating and protecting corridors. We can prevent road strikes by building overpasses and underpasses for wildlife, and we can prevent human-wildlife conflict by becoming educated, mindful, organized and outspoken. Oakland Zoo works with our partners to take leadership in these areas.


For now, we will give the most natural, wild and respectful life to these three beautiful pumas, and work towards a future world where rescues aren’t needed.


Lynn Cullens will be speaking at Oakland Zoo for our Impact Speaker Series on February 22nd. Please join us and be part of the action for wildlife.


You can also visit the zoo and vote for the Mountain Lion Foundation at our Quarters for Conservation voting station.


More about our Conservation partners:

Bay Area Puma Project

Mountain Lion Foundation


More about Oakland Zoo’s Mountain Lion Initiative:

Oakland Zoo helped found BACAT (Bay Area Cougar Action Team) in 2013, an alliance with the Bay Area Puma Project and the Mountain Lion Foundation, to help support the CDFW save mountain lions caught in the human-wildlife conflict. Oakland Zoo works with CDFW to care for adult pumas in need of a place to recover until a release site has been chosen, and participates in regional puma research and advocacy with an aim for a more sustainable co-existence.


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