Center Valley Animal Rescue director Sara Penhallegon, right, along with veterinarian and volunteer Dr. Christine Parker-Graham conduct a medical evaluation on a female cougar that checked itself in to the rescue earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Center Valley Animal Rescue)

Center Valley Animal Rescue director Sara Penhallegon, right, along with veterinarian and volunteer Dr. Christine Parker-Graham conduct a medical evaluation on a female cougar that checked itself in to the rescue earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Center Valley Animal Rescue)

Starving cougar found at animal rescue center

Staff members rehab lost animal, send to Texas zoo

QUILCENE — A cougar checked itself into the Center Valley Animal Rescue for care.

“I guess the word got out that this is where animals come when they need help, so they’re admitting themselves,” joked Sara Penhallegon, Center Valley Animal Rescue (CVAR) director.

An animal caretaker entered a pen thought to be empty on Oct. 11 and was surprised to find an emaciated young female cougar there.

Center staff provided her with food, water and medical care, and the big cat is now at a natural habitat zoo in Texas, Penhallegon said Thursday.

When the cougar was found initially, it was “just skin, bones and organs,” and Penhallegon assumed “that she was looking for a place to die.”

After two weeks of treatment and feeding — which entailed Penhallegon ripping apart boneless chicken breasts and working up to small animals every one to two hours — Penhallegon sedated the cougar with a tranquilizer dart so she and volunteer veterinarian Dr. Christine Parker-Graham could administer medications, take X-rays and perform blood work.

The cougar was so weak when it arrived that Penhallegon didn’t think it would have survived being sedated initially.

The cougar showed no signs of injury or poisoning.

For the first time ever, Center Valley Animal Rescue had an animal check itself into rehab. (Photo courtesy of Center Valley Animal Rescue)

For the first time ever, Center Valley Animal Rescue had an animal check itself into rehab. (Photo courtesy of Center Valley Animal Rescue)

Penhallegon said the cougar was starving because she was so young and hadn’t yet learned to hunt and fend for herself.

An adult female cougar was killed in Quilcene about six weeks prior to the 1-year-old’s arrival at CVAR, and Penhallegon and state officials believe it was the mother of this cougar.

“Cougars stay with their mothers for the first 1½ to 3 years of their lives while they become self-sufficient,” Penhallegon said.

Cougars are generally not rehabilitated. It is impossible for rescues to teach them how to hunt, and they also pose a great danger to caretakers, Penhallegon said.

“I can’t just go out and catch deer and throw it into an enclosure with [a cougar] and say ‘OK, kill the deer,’ ” Penhallegon said. “It’s just a really tricky situation, and these are large, total carnivores.

“Even bear aren’t that dangerous. Bears are omnivores. They’re mostly eating nuts and berries, so, although they’re huge animals, they’re not nearly as dangerous as a cougar is,” she said.

The open pen that the cougar walked into is normally used for coyotes and bobcats, Penhallegon said. However, its recent occupants were deer, due to the large number under care at the rescue.

While CVAR staff cared for the young cougar, Richard Beausoleil, state Department of Fish and Wildlife bear and cougar specialist, found placement at the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas.

Normally CVAR focuses on rehabilitation and release back into the wild for its wildlife patients. But since the cougar couldn’t fend for itself, the only options were euthanization or finding a zoo that could be her new permanent home, Penhallegon said.

The cougar left CVAR on Monday afternoon and was flown to Texas early Tuesday morning. It is now in quarantine at the Carmeron Park Zoo as the staff feed and evaluate her, Penhallegon said.

Penhallegon estimated the cougar gained about 10 pounds while in CVAR’s care, but it was still considered to be emaciated. It will be up to the zoo to bring her up to full health, she said.

The Cameron Park Zoo is considered a natural habitat location. The cougar will live with another female cougar of the same age.

Penhallegon said she thinks it will be a good home for the Quilcene cougar.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].

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