The next time you travel down Big Cat Trail at the San Diego Zoo, be sure to check out our upgraded mountain lion, or cougar, habitat. Thanks to a generous donation, we were able to add features to the exhibit that should stimulate the lives of our cougars while improving the experience of our guests.
Our cougar exhibit is home to two animals: a male, Yakima or “Kima,” and a female, Koyama, or “Koya.” They both came to the Zoo after they were found orphaned in the wild at an age where they were much too young to care for themselves. Now they give our visitors a chance to experience cougars, which frequently roam the hills just east and north of San Diego.
Exhibiting cats can be very challenging. By nature, cats must be elusive in order to be a successful predator, and once they eat they rest for long periods to conserve energy for the next hunt. Although our cats get their meals hand delivered regularly, they still abide by these natural instincts. Therefore, when designing an exhibit we work to have the cats comfortable and acting natural while still being interesting and educating to our guests.
After the renovations, our cougars now have a rock arch to sun themselves and survey their surroundings, and an elevated ledge filled with substrate. Kima is especially fond of perching himself on top of the arch early in the day. Anchors to secure items such as femur bones or other toys were also installed. Plants were added to provide some privacy and also enhance the appearance of the exhibit. It seems someone forgot to tell the cougars this, as Koya has enjoyed using the plantings as toys! Fortunately, we predicted this behavior and have some extra plantings on standby in case the cougar’s rough play causes the demise of any of the new plants.
Be sure to come by the cougar exhibit on your next visit to get a new view of our cougars. I hope you will get an appreciation of this magnificent cat that lives in San Diego’s own backyard.
Todd Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, A Jaguar Milestone.