Their mother was killed by a hunter in the Lookout Mountain area in eastern Oregon. Michelle Schireman, a zookeeper in the Oregon Zoo's North America section, said the hunter is a former Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employee who didn't realize he had shot a female cougar that had cubs.
Once he realized his mistake, he tracked the cougar's paw prints in the snow back to the den and found a trio of newborns.
The hunter reported the situation to ODFW and wildlife workers then cared for the young cougars, who were only around 2 weeks old and weighed just a few pounds each, before transferring them to the Oregon Zoo.
Their eyes were still cloudy blue and unable to focus at the time.
Shireman said the cubs would have starved to death or been eaten by a predator, likely within a day, if they had not been found.
The siblings will not be separated when they move on to the North Carolina Zoo. That zoo recently lost two geriatric cougars and had enough room for three new ones.
Schireman serves as the species coordinator for cougars for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She said whenever possible, she tries to keep brothers and sisters together.
She has found homes for more than 100 cougar cubs at zoos across the country. She said without a mother, young cougars lack the skills and resources necessary to survive on their own in the wild.
Zoo workers said the cubs, one male and two females, have each started developing distinctive personalities. One is playful, one is shy and the third one just likes to cuddle, Schireman said.
Travel arrangements are being finalized, but the cubs will likely be departing for their new home during the first week of March.
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