Captain Cal: Road to Recovery

Oakland Zoo
October 12, 2020


Only four to six weeks old, an orphaned mountain lion cub suffering from severe wildfire burns was discovered and rescued by a Cal Fire firefighter in an area the Zogg Wildfire burned through on September 27th. He was brought to Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital for treatment and rehabilitation.

His touching story has captured the hearts of many, and we at Oakland Zoo want to keep you updated through his recovery.

See our latest Captain Cal Updates below!

What does the Zoo do for Mountain Lion Conservation?

The Bay Area Cougar Action Team (BACAT) is an alliance of like-minded organizations working together to ensure a safe future for Bay Area mountain lions (aka, cougars or pumas). Founding organizations include California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oakland Zoo/Conservation Society of California, the Mountain Lion Foundation and the Bay Area Puma Project. Other local organizations have since joined the force. Through this alliance, Oakland Zoo worked with California Department of Fish and Wildlife to bring Captain Cal to Oakland Zoo. Captain Cal is the 13th mountain lion to be rehabilitated and rescued at the Zoo.

January 12

From Columbus Zoo: "After exploring their new habitat in the Columbus Zoo's North America region, it was time for rescued mountain lion cubs, Goldie, Captain Cal and Poppy, to meet the Zoo's resident cougar, Jessie. Jessie is mostly blind, so their care team provided the opportunity for both Jessie and the cubs to explore each other spaces, giving them the chance to get familiar with each other’s smells.

Goldie has proven to be the boldest and has approached Jessie several times to chuff or paw at her playfully. Poppy is never far behind her sister and will frequently follow Jessie around the habitat if she’s not busy climbing a tree or playing. Captain Cal, on the other hand, is taking his time getting to know Jessie and can often be seen shyly peering out at her from behind a spruce tree while she naps in her den. Jessie seems to be very interested in the cubs and has shown positive behaviors towards them. (She has even chuffed back to the kittens, which is a noise her care team has never heard her make before!)

Jessie has cloudy eyes due to an eye condition she has had since 2006. Her eyes are treated with eye drops four times a day, and she receives a blood pressure medication to help regulate the pressure in her eyes. Jessie is almost completely blind, but she may be able to see differences in lights and shadows based on when she noticed the cubs during their first introduction. Jessie has never been a surrogate mother but is doing an amazing job so far!

The cubs are having a blast exploring every inch of their new home—horizontally and vertically! Don’t forget to look up when you’re looking for them. These cats are quite the aerialists and climbing as high as they possibly can is their favorite activity. They are currently most active in the morning and afternoon. They also enjoy their naps and will put themselves to bed from time to time."

Watch the Cubs explore their habitat and meet Jessie!

Photo: Columbus Zoo

December 28

The cubs are still in quarantine, but animal care staff at Columbus Zoo are working with them and training for medical behaviors before they join Jessie, the 17 year old mountain lion, in their habitat.

December 23

From Columbus Zoo: "We have some very exciting news to share today--the mountain lion cubs who arrived at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium from Oakland Zoo earlier this month, have names!! They are currently finishing out their mandatory quarantine period in the Zoo’s Animal Health Center but will soon move into the Zoo’s North America region.

You’ve probably already familiar with the name Captain Cal. He was named by the Cal Firefighters who found him severely burned and orphaned in September. Thanks to their expertise and care, the team at Oakland Zoo did an incredible job with his rehabilitation.

Oakland Zoo provided us with the opportunity to name the sisters (unrelated to Captain Cal), who were also rescued from the California wildfires as orphans. We’re proud to announce that our Animal Care team has named them…Goldie and Poppy! We felt it was important to honor their origins while also sharing the message of hope and resilience. Their names were inspired by California’s state flower, the golden poppy (also known as “fields of gold”), which tends to bloom after fires.

You’re probably wondering how to tell the cubs apart! Poppy has a black nose, and Goldie has a pink nose. Captain Cal also has a black nose but he has fewer spots on his fur.

The cubs are gaining weight well, are very adventurous and love receiving new enrichment. Feathers and empty wrapping paper tubes are a big hit! Every day, their caregivers watch them learn and grow and we cannot wait to share them with everyone. We will continue to provide updates about these sweet and spunky cubs as they become available. Thank you, Oakland Zoo, and everyone who has been patiently waiting!

Captain Cal (Left), Poppy (Center), & Goldie (Right)

December 8

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight, is there any other option?

We are extremely grateful to FedEx for providing complimentary transport for these 3 rescued mountain lion cubs (and their caregiving humans)!

Captain Cal and the girls received top-notch service on their early morning journey from our Vet Hospital to Oakland International Airport by dinnertime. Thank you FedEx!

December 4

From Columbus Zoo: "They’re here! The three mountain lion cubs, Captain Cal and two sister cubs (unrelated to Cal), safely arrived at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium from Oakland Zoo on Tuesday.

The Cal Firefighters named the male cub “Captain Cal” when they found him limping down a burned-out road in Redding on September 30, 2020. Firefighters found Captain Cal was orphaned and severely burned. He was rushed from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) to Oakland Zoo’s veterinary hospital, where he received great care. After 47 days of treatment, he was considered to be fully recovered. He was introduced to the two female cubs who were orphaned by the August Complex fire and also rehabilitated by Oakland Zoo staff.

The cubs are at the Zoo’s Animal Health Center and are completing the standard, mandatory quarantine period over the next few weeks. (Guests are currently unable to view them while they are acclimating to their new surroundings in the behind-the-scenes areas.) The cubs are settling in and already bonding with their Animal Care team. The care team is offering food to them using tongs to ensure that each cub is receiving proper nutrition, and the team reports that all three are eating very well!

The Columbus Zoo is proud to collaborate with Oakland Zoo and offer a home to these cubs, who will reside in the Zoo’s North America region. Oakland Zoo staff has provided the Columbus Zoo team the opportunity to name the two female cubs, and the Columbus Zoo will announce the cubs’ names in the coming weeks.

Please join us in welcoming the adorable cubs to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium family, and we hope you are as excited as we are to see them. Stay tuned for more information about the cubs in the near future. "

December 2

Success! The cubs have arrived to Columbus Zoo safe and sound. The cubs are doing well and already bonding with their new keepers, after a long day of travel by plane and interstate. Everyone is eating and playing. Cal continues to be the laid-back guy we all love, plopping down in front of everyone. The Columbus keepers are excited to have them and have been jumping right into continuing the cubs' development. Columbus has their first snow on the ground for the season -- another soon-to-be first for the cubs!

December 1

It's moving day! Early flight and then a drive, and these three will be at their new forever home.

November 30

It's official: tomorrow, our marvelous mountain lion trio leaves Oakland Zoo and make the journey to their forever home, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio. We are sad to say goodbye to these courageous cubs, but we are proud to have been able to rehabilitate Cal back to health, and successfully introduce these three to each other to make a family. We are happy to know that the fine folks at Columbus Zoo will take great care of these guys, with passion and experience. We will keep you posted on their journey and their arrival in Ohio! Farewell, fantastic cubs!

November 23

The team is prepping the kittens for their new home. This includes receiving their vaccines, crate training, experiencing new sights and sounds...even acclimating to cooler temperatures that they will experience in Columbus. The cubs are loving having outside access 24 hrs a day! This week the trio sampled their first popsicle. A little treat of frozen blood. Cal loved it!  

November 18

Tongue Out Tuesday! (OK, it's Wednesday, but c'mon, we gotta share this precious pic of Captain Cal no matter what day it is :) The trio is enjoying their expanded space at our vet hospital while plans are finalized for their journey to Ohio in about a week and a half.

November 17

Big news: Captain Cal and his adopted sisters have found a home! All three rescued mountain lion cubs will be moving together to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio.

Rescued from the devastating Zogg and August fires, these 3 cubs captured our hearts as we nursed them back to health here at our veterinary hospital. We are so sad to say goodbye to these adorable kittens but so happy they have a forever home to go to — as a family.

The cubs will travel to Ohio in the next coming weeks, accompanied by Oakland Zoo Zoological Manager Angela Gibson, who has been instrumental in their recovery and introduction to each other here at Oakland Zoo. Our friends at Columbus Zoo are ready and excited to welcome the trio!

All about the cubs’ upcoming move:

November 13

From Dr. Lynette: "After Captain Cal had his bandages removed, his newly naked feet were a little bit sensitive the first few days, but now he is running around like a normal cub!  He will complete his vaccine series and otherwise is being managed like a healthy cub.

The girls are healthy. We are just giving them their kitten vaccine series (similar vaccines that domestic cats get but slightly different products) and enjoying watching them all grow."

November 11

From Hospital Keeper Adam: "Everyone’s doing great! The cubs got to go outside for the first time earlier this week since the fires. They enjoy it so much that getting them in for the cold nights has proven to be a challenge. They’re also being exposed to new sights, sounds, and people to assure a smooth transition to their new homes. Captain’s feet continue to amaze the staff. As expected, they were little sensitive for the first few days since he hasn’t placed his paws on anything but bandages for the last two months, but gaining confidence and comfort with each day."

November 9

The cubs now have outdoor access in their temporary home at our vet hospital. They were a little nervous at first exploring the space but it didn’t take long for them to begin playing and choosing their new sleeping spots.

It's amazing how much the grow and develop each. Cal has been learning to jump straw bale to bale. Nothing is slowing him down. The trio are very vocal with each other chirping as they play.

November 5

From Dr. Herman: "Cap is a little sore today walking on his tender feet.  He is being cautious, and to help him I increased his recovery pain medication and added in a second anti-inflammatory pain medication for three days.  He continues to eat well, sleep fine.  The lab work showing that all three kittens have healthy organ systems is in, and the echocardiogram to check Captain’s heart to make sure there was no permanent damage by the smoke was normal, which is great.

They are all cleared from quarantine, and if Cap’s feet are toughened up a bit, we will give them outdoor access Sunday to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine!"

Check out this "Then & Now" much improvement!

November 4

Captain Cal got his bandages off! Dr Herman and her staff removed the bandages and examined Captain Cal's overall health via physical exams and blood work. His paws look great! Captain Cal immediately started cleaning his feet and seems very relieved to have his feet free!

November 3

OK, this cuddling is just too much!!! Clearly, these three are getting along. And, there's more good news: Our vet team has determined that Captain Cal's feet are healed enough to remove his bandages! Join us LIVE on Facebook and Instagram tomorrow morning (around 11:30am Pacific) to watch Captain's bandages come off!

November 2

From Dr. Waugh: "The cubs are getting quite comfortable together. They regularly sleep together in a ‘kitten pile’ and they play together throughout the day.  Being housed with the girls has improved Captain’s confidence.  We are so grateful he has companions!

His feet are healing exponentially each time I see them. He is making great progress and showing us that his feet are no longer feel as sensitive by romping around with the girls and climbing around their area."

October 29

From Dr. Herman: "Captain Cal is very playful with the girls, but also getting a lot of resting and snuggling. He seems very comforted by their presence. His bandages are holding up to all the play and action, but getting a bit ragged. We have a procedure scheduled for tomorrow."

October 28

Finally, our three rescued orphaned mountain lion cubs got to meet each other, paws to paws! Captain Cal and the two females had their first in-person playdate, and as you can see, it was a heartwarming hit! Rough and tumble, then a long snuggle. Although these three sadly cannot be re-released into the wild, they will have each other as we find them a permanent home.

October 27

Captain Cal is healing so well! This video is from his bandage change today. He arrived at 3.7 lbs and now weighs 11.4 lbs! Getting very big and vigorous....and so ferocious with a mouthful of milk!

October 23

Both Captain Cal and the girls are doing really well. The two females are learning to get on the scale voluntarily so keepers can be sure that they are maintaining healthy weights. Our Night Keeper Jason does Captain Cal's nighttime feedings and also spends time socializing him to help him be more comfortable with people. When his feet heal more, we will try a playdate with the girls!

October 22

Here's our champ eating some meat kabobs lovingly prepared by our rock star hospital keeper Adam, who injects each meatball with antibiotics. Captain is gaining weight as he transitions from milk formula to a more meat-based diet. It takes perseverance to build trust with animals like this, and we thank you Adam, and the entire Vet Hospital staff for your efforts to nurse this guy back to health!

October 20

Captain Cal's healing continues, and it is really amazing to watch the changes occur each time we unwrap the bandages. He still has a lot of tissue to heal and so he will be under hospital care for quite some time, but we are happy with his progress. We are able to change the bandages a little less often now that he is healing. He is getting to know his neighbors (the two female mountain lion cubs) and has been seen interacting with them and vocalizing to them.

Captain Cal after a bandage change

October 19

Captain Cal's burn wounds are healing very quickly, and today he was relaxed and in front of his stall, instead of hiding when his primary keeper came by. So, healing well, and trusting and socializing well.  He also gained another half pound, as he moves away from kitten milk into a more meat-based diet. Very heartening!

October 18

Captain Cal is in good spirits! Here he is playing in shavings pan. Playing is so important for young animals, and we are very happy to see that he is feeling well enough to play.

October 15

Today Captain Cal had anesthesia and a bandage change. His wounds continue to slowly heal. Things look so good we are not doing anesthesia tomorrow, he will be able to relax and enjoy getting to know his two new sisters on Friday!

October 14

Exciting update! Today Captain Cal finally ventured out of his crate (still bandaged heavily but walking! He walked up to the partition between himself and the other two orphaned mountain lion cubs (females) that were also rescued from the Zogg Fire.

Based on their first meeting, this looks to be a great bond the 3 will form with each other! It’s sad that they ended up in the situation they have because of the devastating fire, but we are so happy that Captain Cal now has these two girls to grow up with for companionship and comfort.

Very soon the partition will be removed, it’s part of the introduction process that occurs in two phases.

We anesthetized him to change his bandages today and the burned pads are improving daily.

We’re very optimistic and happy!

October 13

We are very happy with Captain Cal's improvement! His feet are healing rapidly (new layers of skin are growing nicely) and today, we moved Captain to the ward, right next door to our two rescued sister mountain lions. These females are also rescues from the Zogg Fire, where their mother sadly died. The girls are in healthy shape, and during our first attempt to introduce everyone, the girls were comfortable coming right up to the grate separating their rooms to have their meal. Captain, however, was more shy, and will take a little more time getting used to the "new digs."

Captain meets the girls
The sisters, "Pink Nose" and "Black Nose"

October 12

Update from Dr. Herman, VP Veterinary Services

Today Captain Cal is bright, alert, and feisty. Eating well, and not needing an anesthetic procedure and bandage change for the first time since he has come to the Zoo! We are getting organized for his first meet and greet with the two cub girls tomorrow!  He continues to eat well and gain weight.


October 9

Live at Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital

Wonder what goes into rehabilitating and treating a rescued mountain lion? Check out our recent Facebook Live where Dr. Herman and her vet staff treat and check up on Captain Cal!


October 6

Update from Dr. Herman, VP Veterinary Services

Feisty and always ready for food! Here is Captain Cal enjoying a delicious milk and meat mixer.

While he continues to recover here at the hospital, we are monitoring all health progress. From wrapping his feet wounds every day to treating parasites – Captain is getting all the TLC he needs from my staff and me.

Captain Cal remains bright and active and has a great appetite.

October 4

Update from Dr. Herman, VP Veterinary Services

Captain Cal received some treatment today to help improve the condition of his burnt paws. We removed dead skin tissue from his wounded feet. Removal of the dead skin allows for the antibiotics to work on the infected areas. We then re-bandaged each foot to help them heal.

Something this little guy is not- is food shy! He has been drinking all his formula and getting all the fluids he needs, which has helped him gain some weight! He has gone from 2 to 5 lbs!

Go, Captain Cal!!

October 2

The orphaned Mountain lion rescued from the Zogg Fire has a name: Captain Cal - named after the Cal Fire mascot.

September 30

Delivered in tonight's evening hours by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, this little guy was found alone by Cal Fire firefighters in the Zogg fire. He will be living at Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary hospital temporarily while nurtured back to health by our Vet Staff. He was severely burned by the fires but is responding well to treatment and eating well. He is about 4-6 weeks old. Without a mother to teach him the ropes, he cannot return to the wild once he is healthy. Once he has recovered, he will move to a forever home at another suitable facility.

VP of Animal Care Colleen Kinzley helps treat Captain Cal when he first arrived to our vet hospital.