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Special delivery: Mountain lions rescued from Zogg fire arrive at new home

The cubs arrived at their new home at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium just in time for the holidays.
(Oakland Zoo)

Three young mountain lions rescued from a Northern California wildfire have arrived at their new home at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium just in time for the holidays, thanks to a special transport from FedEx.

Firefighters with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection first found the cubs in the days after the Zogg fire tore through 56,000 acres in Shasta and Tehama counties in September.

One cub, dubbed Captain Cal, was so small that rescuers initially mistook him for a house cat.

After his rescue, Captain Cal was taken to the Oakland Zoo, where veterinarians worked with experts from UC Davis to treat him for singed whiskers and burned paw pads. He was only 4 to 6 weeks old at the time.

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The feisty feline was then introduced to two unnamed sister cubs also rescued from the Zogg fire. Just 5 weeks old at the time, the twins had lost their mother in the blaze.

The three cubs were first introduced through a barrier to make sure they would get along, Oakland Zoo spokeswoman Erin Harrison said, and also because Captain Cal was still wrapped in bandages from his burns.

As he grew healthier, proper introductions were made and the trio became fast friends.

“They bonded from the first moment,” Harrison said.

After about two months of care, the cubs were ready to embark on the next leg of their journey. The Oakland Zoo partnered with FedEx, which transported the cubs to their new digs in Ohio on Dec. 1, free of charge.

Harrison said the shipping company often helps the zoo with animal transport because it has the capacity for large cargo.

“They’ve done it for us for tigers, grizzly bears and now these cubs,” she said. “We’re really appreciative.”

In a Facebook update Monday, the zoo shared a video of the trio — now a bit older and larger — snuggled into a large crate as they were placed onto an early morning flight. They were safe and sound in Columbus by dinnertime, officials said.

The cubs aren’t the only animals rescued during California’s worst wildfire season.

A badly burned bear and a singed owl were rehabilitated in recent months, and just last week, a young bobcat burned by the El Dorado fire was returned to the wild.

The 7- to 9-month-old bobcat was treated for severe wounds, some of which were infected, at San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Wildlife Center. She responded so well to care that she doubled in size over the course of her two-month treatment, Andy Blue, the center’s campus director, said in a news release.

“This little fighter went from emaciated with severe burns to becoming a feisty predator who will be able to fend for herself in nature,” Blue said. “We are thrilled!”

But not every animal is a great candidate for returning to the wild. Harrison said mountain lions cubs such as Captain Cal and his companions typically stay with their mothers for the first two years of their life to learn to hunt and survive.

“When they’re [orphaned] this young, the only option is for them to live in a zoo or a sanctuary,” she said. “Putting them back in the wild would just be another death sentence.”

The Columbus Zoo will unveil the names of the two sister cubs soon, Harrison said. The plan is for the threesome to remain together at the facility for the rest of their lives.

“They sleep in a pile. They play with each other. They’re so tight now,” she said. “They’re a true family.”


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