Wild female cougar adopts orphaned cubs

Cougar cubs lead pre­cari­ous lives. Other pred­at­ors – even male cou­gars — prey on them. They can also be­come sick or get in­jured. But per­haps the worst thing that can hap­pen is los­ing their mom.

This three-week old cougar kitten was photographed in southern California by Eric York while working for UC Davis Wildlife Health Center.
This three-week old cou­gar kit­ten was pho­to­graphed in south­ern California by Eric York while work­ing for UC Davis Wildlife Health Center.

Most young adult cou­gars head out on their own when they’re 18-months to two-years old. By that time they have rudi­ment­ary hunt­ing skills and are usu­ally large enough to take down prey on their own. Even then some young cou­gars don’t survive.

But if mom is shot by a hunter, hit by a car or killed tak­ing down prey when her cubs are young­er than 18-months old, their chances of sur­viv­al de­crease dramatically.

Cougars are se­cret­ive car­ni­vores so much about their day-to-day lives and re­la­tion­ships with each oth­er re­mains un­known. So it was a real sur­prise when re­search­ers with Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project in Jackson Hole, Wyoming dis­covered a fe­male cou­gar with young of her own had ad­op­ted three orphaned cubs.

Teton Cougar Project dir­ect­or, Howard Quigley, tells the story in New Insight into Cougar Behaviour.