LOS ANGELES — With wide eyes and a nervous look on her face, the mountain lion cub cautiously pawed her way to a hidden camera. She sniffed around the lens, then opened her mouth, baring her teeth — and yelped.
The 4-month-old cub couldn’t eke out much more than a squeak when she was found by two firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service. They were on their way to a hike near Idyllwild on Sept. 2 when they found the cub lying in the road.
“The mother was not around,” Forest Service spokesman Zach Behrens said. “(The cub) wasn’t really moving, seemed distressed” and had labored breathing.
The firefighters — engineer Joe Colvin and assistant engineer Nick Gillott — retrieved a cat carrier from the nearby station and caught the cub. They turned the animal over to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which then gave her to the San Diego Humane Society.
“She was semiconscious, extremely emaciated, dehydrated, weak and had tremors,” the San Diego Humane Society said in a statement about the 10.5-pound cub, estimated to be 14 weeks old when she was found.
At the Humane Society, she began a daily diet of medication and ground protein with milk replacer to regain her strength, according to the society.
Now weighing 22 pounds, the cub is getting her roar back.
“With each passing day, she becomes more active and responsive, and though she still has some medical issues to overcome from being in such a fragile state, we are delighted she has responded well to our treatment and are hopeful she will make a full recovery,” Christine Barton, director of Operations and Wildlife Rehabilitation at the San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona campus, said.
“Mountain lions are special predators, and we are proud to have an expert team trusted by the state of California to care for the species.”
Mountain lions typically stay with their mother until they are at least a year old. Given the cub’s emaciated state when she was found alone, the Humane Society presumes she was orphaned.
When sufficiently stabilized in about a week, she will be transferred to the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, Humane Society spokeswoman Nina Thompson said.
For now, caregivers are keeping an eye on her through the wildlife camera stationed in her facility.
“They want (wildlife animals) to be able to be scared around humans, and actually not be comfortable around humans, because that wouldn’t be good for them in the wild,” Thompson said. “As little human interaction as possible … is key to rehabilitating wildlife.”
Last week, firefighters saved another mountain lion cub from the Zogg fire in Northern California. The 4-pound cub, Capt. Cal, is recovering at the Oakland Zoo.
Animals are not immune from the wildfires raging across California. Last year, California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife housed three bears and a mountain lion from the Thomas and Camp fires, according to spokeswoman Kirsten Macintyre. This year, the department is housing three animals — and fire season has just begun, Macintyre noted.
To prepare for the inevitable influx of injured wildlife, the department announced last week it had teamed up with the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to propose a “Wildlife Disaster Network” to rescue wild animals from natural disasters.
“There’s always been this prevailing mindset that ‘they’ll get out of the way,’ or that they can manage if left alone, but that needs to change. With the increase in frequency and severity of disasters, wildlife cannot escape,” UC Davis veterinarian Dr. Jamie Peyton said.
“Without human interference, these animals will suffer and succumb, due not only to their injuries but also to the loss of food, water and habitat. It is our obligation to provide the missing link for the wildlife that share our home.”
According to a news release, the new group would be responsible for every aspect of rescuing wildlife victims of natural disasters, including search and rescue, field triage and rehabilitation. In addition to rescuing animals, the group of veterinarians, biologists, ecologists and animal care volunteers would collect data to increase research on the effects of wildfires on wildlife.