Advertisement

Mountain lion cubs Holly and Hazel becoming friends and building their fan base

A close-up photo of a mountain lion cub in an enclosure.
Cougar cub Holly.
(Conservation Society of California/Oakland Zoo)
Share

One week after Los Angeles bid farewell to its resident celebrity mountain lion, P-22, during a three-hour memorial at the Greek Theatre, two cubs at the Oakland Zoo have become the latest darlings of California’s wildlife set.

Since the zoo took in the orphaned and dying cats, more than 2.2 million people have turned to the zoo’s social media pages to monitor and track their progress.

Arriving from the Santa Cruz Mountains just a few weeks apart, Holly and Hazel have been treated in the zoo’s veterinary intensive care unit for dehydration, malnutrition, severe muscle loss and anemia. Their recovery, said Alex Herman, head of the zoo’s veterinary services, has been nothing short of “magical.”

Advertisement

One video shows the two cats at their first meeting exhibiting mutual curiosity and typical feline diffidence. Another captures them at night in the same enclosure, playfully pestering each other like two siblings sent to bed early.

VIDEO | 00:30
Rescued mountain lion cubs play at Oakland Zoo

Hazel and Holly, rescued mountain lion cubs, cuddle and play at the Oakland Zoo.

Their survival, while endearing, also represents an important effort in understanding mountain lion behavior, Herman said. “They provide us with an opportunity to move the dial on how to coexist with these predators and appreciate their role in the state’s ecosystems,” she said.

Supporting that role has proved to be a challenge as mountain lions have increasingly found their territories encroached on by development and threatened by environmental change.

In Southern California, the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills is under construction and will give mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains a wider territorial range.

Since 2017, the Oakland Zoo has taken in 23 ailing cats. Not all of them have survived. Two have been released into the wild, and the majority have become ambassadors for the species in zoos around the country.

Holly and Hazel were delivered to the Oakland Zoo by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Holly was found mid-December by a homeowner in Santa Cruz, who waited to see if the cub’s mother would return. Fish and Wildlife will conduct genetic testing within the next month to determine whether the cats are siblings.

Their treatment included intravenous fluids, nutritional support and, for Hazel, a blood transfusion from one of the zoo’s adult mountain lions. The cubs were attended to by three veterinarians, four nurses and two zookeepers at a cost estimated by Herman at $2,000 to $3,000 a day.

Their recovery has also included forms of physical therapy — cat play — to help restore muscles atrophied from malnutrition. The goal, Herman said, is to get them in shape to thrive on their own. “We want to get them ready to be outside, climbing trees, being athletic in a naturalistic habitat.”

Advertisement

By the end of the month, Holly and Hazel will be living in a special habitat next to Coloma and Silverado, the zoo’s 6-year-old mountain lions. The animals will be separated, but their proximity will allow Holly and Hazel — who would normally be in the company of their mothers until they were 2 years old — to learn more about being a mountain lion.

Eventually Holly and Hazel will be transferred by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Advertisement