One of two mountain lion cubs who lost their mother in a car crash has been returned to the wild — a first for mountain lion kittens in California — after being rehabilitated by a team of veterinarians in San Diego County.
Now 6 months old, the mountain lion cub first arrived at the San Diego Humane Society's Ramona Wildlife Center on Feb. 11, 2021. Her sister — who was in much worse shape — arrived a few months later, on May 1.
After four months of rehabilitation work, the cub was transported to its original habitat near Tijeras Creek Golf Course in Orange County. A hatch door was opened and, after a quick glance around, the mountain lion bounded back home.
The moment was significant for wildlife researchers, as mountain lion kittens who lose their mothers usually cannot be released into the wild.
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"We are very excited to have been a part of this pilot program for mountain lion rehab in California, as typically rescued mountain lion kittens are routed for sanctuaries,” said Christine Barton, director of operations and wildlife rehabilitation at San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Wildlife Center. "We hope these few months with us have provided her the extra time needed to fill the void left from losing her mother."
The center's Project Wildlife Team partnered with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to rehab the kittens with as little human interaction as possible — only necessary veterinary exams and care — in order to prevent imprinting, or a strong attachment to its human caretakers.
The cubs were orphaned near the Tijeras Creek Golf Course in Orange County after their mother was struck by a car. Neither of the cubs could fend for themselves, so the San Diego County Humane Society was called in to help.
The second cub is still recovering from surgery to a fractured arm and will not be released to the wild just yet. It is unclear if her rehabilitation could result in the same success that her sister's has had.
The Ramona Wildlife Center has been operating since 1972 at a facility off of Highland Valley Road in Ramona and is now one of the largest rehab centers in the country. The Project Wildlife Team rehabilitates about 13,000 injured, orphaned or sick animals a year at the facility.