Three Winthrop cougar cubs get new Minnesota home

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WINTHROP — Three baby cougars have a safe new home, three weeks after finding themselves orphaned and captured in this Okanogan County town.

The litter of two males and one female cougar turned up Jan. 22, under the deck of a residential home in Winthrop. There was no sign of their parent, which might have been an adult female cougar killed by wildlife agents nearby a few weeks earlier.

Because the cubs were too small to survive alone, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife had to quickly capture them and find them a new home. That’s where The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota comes in.

“Right now we’re a 40-acre facility,” says Tammy Thies, the founder and executive director of the sanctuary. “Every square inch of it is built out. We have the capacity to take in about 100 animals. … Mostly we take in captive-born cats that have been seized by authorities or that people try to keep illegally as pets. But our goal here at the sanctuary is to allow animals to be wild at heart, and give them back a piece of what was stripped from them.”

Thies founded the sanctuary 20 years ago. Cats there get space to roam as freely as possible, with much of the same enrichment they might find in their home environments. Over the years, the staff has taken in more than a dozen orphaned cougars from Washington.

“Animals come to us when it’s been deemed by other entities or authorities that they can’t live in the wild,” Thies says. “We’re not a rehab facility. We work with rehabbers all the time, so if animals can be released or rehabbed and go back into the wild, that’s the first choice. But if they can’t, we stil lwant to give them dignity and compassion. ”

Fish and Wildlife agents flew the three cubs, estimated at about four to six months old and 40 to 50 pounds each, to the sanctuary Feb. 3. After a week, they got spay and neuter treatment, to prepare for their new lives in Minnesota.

The cougars are likely to grow to adulthood and spend their whole lives at the sanctuary. When full grown, Thies says, they’ll be upwards of 150 pounds.

“And now, they get to be just left alone to be cougar kittens, and learn to trust humans a little bit so that they can get quality care. And then after they recover — especially the female from her spay — they get outdoor access again. So we’re really excited to see how they roll and play and start discovery in their new life here.”

The animals don’t have proper names yet. You can put in your suggestions for naming the three cubs, and make a donation toward their upkeep, on The Wildcat Sanctuary’s Facebook page, or at wildcatsanctuary.org.