You may have heard of our recent mountain lion rescues Holly and Hazel, or Rose and Sage. But what about Captain Cal, Goldie, and Poppie? Or Brave Boy?
Oakland Zoo has helped rescue 25+ mountain lion cubs that otherwise would not have survived. It’s a demanding process to rehabilitate emaciated, underweight, and orphaned mountain lions, but we're committed to doing everything we can for these animals in need.
Join us as we revisit some of our mountain lion rescue success stories, and check in with these big cats at their furrever homes.
Two mountain lion cubs arrived at Oakland Zoo in Fall 2018; Jasper from Modoc County and Ruby from Lake County. Jasper was orphaned after his mother, who was reportedly killing sheep in the area, was shot and killed under a legal depredation permit. Ruby’s story is more of a mystery, as she was found after a property owner investigated “chirping” she thought to be birds. While we don’t know for sure what caused Ruby to become orphaned, we do know an adult female was discovered 5 miles away, struck and killed by a vehicle.
The cubs spent a few months at Oakland Zoo rehabilitating for emaciation and other health concerns, and were sent to Como Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota, in October of 2018. Jasper and Ruby are said to be a perfect mix of curiosity and playfulness by their care team.
Jasper eventually started experiencing progressive retinal atrophy, a condition in which retinal tissue in the eyes degrades over time. In 2023, his medical team at Como Zoo made the decision to take action with surgery -- alleviating his discomfort, but leaving him blind. Fortunately, he has his bonded partner Ruby, who helps him out a lot. Jasper and Ruby's care team say despite his blindness, Jasper is living a great life, and the pair are happy and healthy.
Salton and Freya, four-month old siblings, were found by authorities wandering the streets of Half Moon Bay in the Spring of 2019. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was able to collect the cubs and bring them to Oakland Zoo, where they were treated for dehydration, malnourishment, lesions, and ectoparasites. Prior to their arrival, the male suffered a deep nose wound from an altercation with a skunk which is still visible today. Their mother was nowhere to be seen.
Unlike Jasper and Ruby, these two were Oakland Zoo’s first set of siblings to be rehabilitated together and never separated, aside from medical exams. They were transported together to EcoTarium in Massachusetts in the Spring of 2019 and have been there since.
Franklin (AKA "Brave Boy") arrived at the Oakland Zoo in late Fall of 2019 at an estimated 4-6 weeks of age, and weighing less than 4 pounds. He was originally found by a homeowner in El Dorado County after she heard cries and discovered a den with three cubs, only two of which were alive. With no mother found in the vicinity, Franklin and his sister were retrieved by The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and brought to Oakland Zoo Veterinary Hospital, suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration. Despite treatments and efforts by the veterinary staff, his sister passed away that night due to the severity of her condition.
Still, Franklin persevered, growing stronger every day, responding well to treatments, and gaining weight. It was his perseverance under such difficult circumstances that influenced his care team to dub him “Brave Boy”. Once healthy, he was moved to El Paso Zoo in Texas, where he joined his new sassy companion, Scout. Eventually, his name was changed to Franklin in honor of the adjacent Franklin Mountains, but he’ll always be a Brave Boy to us.
No recount of mountain lion rescues would be complete without a trip down memory lane with Captain Cal. In late 2020, as the devastating Zogg fire roared through Northern California, a brave Cal Fire firefighter stationed in Redding rescued an orphaned and injured 4-week-old mountain lion cub suffering from severe burns. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who were already tirelessly working to save the lives of so many wildlife victims trapped by the recent blaze, were able to transport the cub to Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital for treatment.
Our veterinary team immediately jumped into action. This 3.75-pound cub had been badly burned, especially his paws. His whiskers had been singed off, and he had excessive irritation to his eyes. Fortunately, he did not have any harm to his lungs from smoke inhalation, and avoided bone damage to his severely burnt paws.
His road to recovery was an extensive one, including daily bandage changes, and round-the-clock care to treat his open wounds. Little by little, his health improved, as did the hopes of staff. In honor of Cal Fire’s efforts, it was only fitting to name this tough little cub after the Cal Fire mascot, Captain Cal!
A month and a half later, 2 sister cubs, estimated to be only 3-4 weeks old, also orphaned by the Zogg fire, were brought to Oakland Zoo for care. Despite their past troubles, the sisters arrived with sweet demeanors and gave Captain Cal lots of positive influence. Once Cal was fully ready, the three were successfully introduced.
This inseparable trio was moved to Columbus Zoo in Ohio in the beginning of December during the first snowfall of the season -- quite a change from the tribulations they experienced a few months before. They were initially housed with an elderly, mostly blind, surrogate mother named Jessie, until her passing in June of 2021.
Years after Captain Cal’s remarkable recovery, he continued to face complications from the injuries he sustained in the Zogg fire. To help him heal and live more comfortably, the Columbus Zoo medical team had to make the difficult decision to remove three of his claws (2021) and partially amputate the tips of several more toes (2022) which had rotated into abnormal positions. This hasn’t affected his quality of life, and the three mountain lions continue to live happily together as an adopted family in Ohio.
Rose was discovered by local hikers in Spring 2022 in the Thornewood Open Space Preserve in San Mateo, emaciated and severely anemic, weighing only 8 pounds. Due to her very low blood count, she needed an immediate and live-saving blood transfusion, provided by one of the Zoo’s permanent residents, and previously rescued mountain lions, Silverado. Both felines fully recovered from the procedure, and the young cub’s blood levels began to return to normal ranges.
Sage’s story is a peculiar one, having been discovered inside a Pescadero High School classroom! He was removed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and brought to the Oakland Zoo Veterinary Hospital for evaluation and care. Fortunately, he arrived in better shape than Rose and didn’t need intensive care.
Our rescue care team gradually introduced the two mountain lions after Rose was medically cleared --first, via side-by-side hospital enclosures, then finally, full introductions. Much like our other mountain lion cub introduction, the two became quick companions. Once together, their personalities began to shine – Rose more rambunctious and curious, and Sage more shy and cautious.
Rose and Sage stayed in our care at Oakland Zoo longer than past rescues, eventually reaching over 50 pounds, but by the summer of 2022 they were moved to a "furrever home" at The Living Desert in Palm Springs. The pair had the opportunity to be housed adjacent to an 18-year old mountain lion named Salem. While they never shared space, the three cats rotated habitat spaces, sharing scents, much to Rose’s enjoyment. Salem has since passed, but provided a source of comfort for the pair.
Rose continues to be a brave explorer, curious, and likes to get up close and personal while Sage remains reserved, though Living Desert staff have mentioned him slowly breaking his mold, becoming more independent and courageous -- especially after learning to climb the rock walls in his habitat.
This past spring, students from the same Pescadero High School where Sage was found had an opportunity to visit him at The Living Desert. Everyone enjoyed sharing stories, photos, and talking about their incredible transformation.
Holly was discovered by a homeowner in the Santa Cruz Mountains a few days before Christmas 2022. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was alerted and observed her for a few days to determine if the cub's mother would return (she didn't), and based on the her poor condition, eventually elected to bring her to Oakland Zoo's veterinary hospital for recovery. She was estimated to be 3-4 months old and suffering from hypothermia and other ailments requiring ICU treatments. Fortunately, she responded well to medication and even started eating solid foods from her care team the following day. We named her "Holly" in honor of the holidays.
Two weeks later, Hazel was brought to Oakland Zoo's veterinary hospital, also having been discovered in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This 4-5 month old orphan suffered from severe anemia and hypoglycemia, requiring extensive intervention. While her appetite and weight slowly began to increase over the next few days, she remained anemic and weak, so our vet team decided to perform a donor blood transfusion from our resident mountain lion, Silverado. This marked Silverado's second life-saving transfusion (he saved mountain lion cub Rose's life last year). The 4-hour transfusion was a success and Hazel's red blood cell levels jumped from 17% to 29%.
Both cubs made spectacular progress in their recoveries and were eventually introduced to each other in early February without conflict. Once together, their personalities really began to shine. From Hospital Keeper Nikki: "Holly is a little shy but very spicy - she's not afraid to use her voice and show us how big and scary she is. Hazel, on the other hand, is very laid back. Holly seems to be the instigator when it comes to play. Hazel can often be seen snoozing and letting the rambunctious Holly do her thing."
While the California Department of Fish and Wildlife was looking for a forever home, we implemented a new care strategy to optimize Holly and Hazel's social and mental development. For the first time in all our years of mountain lion rescues, the cubs graduated from their hospital setting to a newly-built rescue habitat immediately adjacent to our resident adult mountain lions, Coloma and Silverado. Not only did the recovering cubs get the opportunity to be outside on grass and soil, but they could also see, smell, hear, and interact with adult mountain lions right next door.
Mountain lion cubs in the wild regularly spend up to two years with their mothers, learning the skills needed to become a successful predator. Without this training, the cubs can succumb to the elements or encroach on urban environment for food and shelter, furthering human-wildlife conflict. This time period near our resident adults provided the girls with needed comfort and ease for their growing bodies and minds. Their developmental journey was documented with our fist-ever mountain lion "CubCam," which went live in Spring 2023.
The Department of California Fish and Wildlife eventually found a "furrever" home for Holly and Hazel at Big Bear Alpine Zoo in Southern California, and the two were successfully transported in the early Summer of 2023. After an incoming quarantine, Big Bear Zoo introduced Holly and Hazel to their new habitat for the first time --Hazel was the first to explore, Holly followed soon after. The bonded cubs have settled in nicely in their new home and have gotten to know their new neighbors, a bobcat named Baby and wolf named Bodhi.
Holly and Hazel were pioneers -- helping implement an innovative style of management for mountain lion cub rescues at Oakland Zoo, focused on the optimization of social and metal development, and inspired fans from all around the world.
No recounting of mountain lion rescue stories is complete without including those that started it all - our very own resident mountain lions!
In the Fall of 2017, a 3-month-old, orphaned mountain lion kitten was found in a residential backyard in Silverado Canyon and brought to Oakland Zoo for rehabilitation and care. Two weeks later, a second orphaned male, similar in age, was discovered on a Rancho Santa Margarita roadside and transported to Oakland Zoo as well. These Santa Ana cubs would become the first mountain lions Oakland Zoo helped rescue as part of BACAT (Bay Area Cougar Action Team), a groundbreaking alliance made up of multiple agencies, nonprofits, local parks, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and mountain lion researchers. Their care team would eventually name them after Southern California landmarks, Silverado (Canyon) and Toro (Peak).
Once healthy, the two cubs were successfully introduced to each other at Oakland Zoo’s veterinary hospital while their future habitat in the brand new California Trail section of the Zoo was nearing completion. Their personalities began to shine through, and couldn’t have been more opposite! Silverado -- trusting, easy going, and a perfect training subject. Toro, on the other hand, serious, reclusive, and guarded. But together, they formed a beautifully bonded duo.
This blended family grew larger with the arrival of a small female found orphaned on a roadside in Coloma, Ca a few days before Christmas 2017. This 2-month-old cub required extensive treatments, but once healthy, was also successfully introduced to the boys, and named after the town in which she was found.
The three felines moved into their 26,000 square foot habitat in June 2018 as part of Oakland Zoo’s California Trail expansion - likely the largest mountain lion habitat in the world. Here they became educational ambassadors, helping guests foster a healthy co-existence with mountain lions and understand the challenges these amazing animals face in regards to human-wildlife conflict.
Silverado has also become a life-saving blood donor, providing essential blood for two future mountain lion rescue cubs, Rose and Hazel. Without his cooperation and resiliency, neither of these cubs would have survived.
Sadly, in September of 2022, Toro lost his battle with a rare and aggressive cancer called histocytic sarcoma. He is terribly missed by both Zoo guests and staff.
Silverado and Coloma continue to live together at California Trail, having blazed the trail for mountain lion research, rescue, and rehabilitation, inspiring new generations of conservationists for years to come.
Oakland Zoo is working hard to reduce human-wildlife conflict instances that result in mountain lion cases like these. But, as long as there are injured or orphaned mountain lions in need of help, our mountain lion rescue team stands ready to assist.
Read more about how we are Taking Action for mountain lions here.