The Vancouver Zoo is more than just a great place to spend the day with the family.
For a collection of orphaned and sometimes discarded animals, it is a refuge that has given those animals a second chance at life.
Perhaps the best known of the recently rescued animals are two hapless cougar cubs who were brought to the zoo by the B.C. Conservation Service early in 2018.
“Rocket was found hiding under a deck when he was about three months old. He was very thin and had frost bitten ears, and couldn’t eat solid food or drink water at the time. It’s thought that he had survived for a month without eating and was in very rough shape,” said Menita Prasad, the animal care manager at the zoo.
“We had to bottle feed him until he started gaining some weight and slowly, over the course of about three months, we got him onto solid food and able to drink water. Since then he’s been eating like a monster.”
It’s believed that Rocket’s mother was struck by a car, leaving Rocket to fend for himself long before he was prepared to do so.
The second of the cougars, a female named Rosie, was herself struck by a vehicle at a different location when she was only a few months old. She’d suffered trauma to her head and had lost the use of one eye.
“When we introduced the two to each other they took to one another right away. Rocket was far more elusive in nature and Rosie was more outgoing, and they really have brought out the best in one another,” said Prasad.
The two cats have now been moved to their new enclosure in the North American exhibit of the Zoo where they continue to be affectionate (to one another, at least), and very playful.
Rocket and Rosie’s neighbours are also rescued orphans. They are three black bear cubs who came to the zoo from Alaska where their mother had been shot after coming into contact with humans in the area. The three cubs were rescued and are now healthy, seemingly happy and very curious of any visitors.
“Those three are very outgoing. When people approach the enclosure they tend to come out to investigate and they do look so sweet and cuddly that I’m sure people might think that they could pet them,” said Prasad with a chuckle.
“But, of course, you always have to remember that these are wild animals and need to be treated with respect.”
Unfortunately, it seems that’s a lesson that some people need to be reminded of and the zoo is a testament to the inadvisability of trying to make pets out of wild animals.
“Our grizzly bear, Shadow, was a cub when he was found at a garbage dump by some people who thought they could raise him as a pet. That didn’t work out so well, and they soon approached us to surrender Shadow to a more appropriate home,” said Prasad.
“Our lynx was also was surrendered after he injured a member of a family who thought he would make a good pet, and we even have a lion that came to us from Quebec where someone was trying to keep it as a pet. I suspect these people meant well, but trying to domesticate a wild animal is a very bad idea.”
Prasad was quick to note that, despite their success in rehabilitating and caring for some orphan animals, the zoo is not a rehabilitation facility and will often find themselves in the position of having to refer people with injured animals to the appropriate agency.
“With increased human/wildlife interaction we get calls about injured deer, geese, crows … all kinds of animals. We’d love to be able to help them all, but we’re simply not equipped to do that. It’s only in cases like Rocket and Rosie where we can take them in and provide them with a loving home while at the same time giving them the chance to educate and delight our visitors,” said Prasad.