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Folsom Zoo Sanctuary welcomes new cougar

Animal kept as pet in residential bathroom
By: Laura Newell, Telegraph staff writer
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The Folsom Zoo Sanctuary has introduced to the community its newest member, a cougar named Echo. Echo, who is about 1 year old, came from a facility in Arizona after being held captive as an illegal pet. Authorities became aware of the cougar after finding it for sale online at craigslist.org. Authorities found Echo wearing a harness living in a bathroom in a residential home, said Jill Lute, senior lead worker at the sanctuary. “He was originally purchased in the exotic pet trade, raised by humans and was being prepared to be resold as a pet online,” Lute said. “So he will never have the natural instincts to live in the wild. He wouldn’t have his internal hunting skills to protect himself and survive.” Lute said at 1 year old, Echo should still be living with his mother in the wild and unable to survive alone. Zookeeper Amy Van Der Molen was present when Echo arrived in Folsom, Sunday, Aug. 26, and said he seems to be in good health. Lute said this was a collaborative effort between the sanctuary and the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in Arizona. Lute, who has worked for the sanctuary since 1988, said for the past few months, the two centers have been working together to find three animals, including Echo, the best long-term homes. “There was an orphan mountain lion cub from California who came in and our veterinarian helped bring back to health,” said Lute. “Then a week later, her brother was found and brought into the sanctuary. While we were able to keep her at our sanctuary, we could not keep both. After seeing them together again and bond, we knew they needed to stay together. Because we didn’t want to separate them, we worked with the conservation center. They took the cubs and we were able to take Echo in exchange. Echo was living at the conservation center, but was very lonely there. So he will fit in really well at our sanctuary with the other cougars.” Van Der Molen, who has been with the sanctuary since 1994, said Echo is getting more comfortable in his den. “He lived by himself as a pet for so long, so this is a big adjustment for him,” she said. “He is getting more comfortable with the other three cougars here at the sanctuary. Eventually, they will all be in one enclosure, but now he needs to adjust at his own pace.” Van Der Molen said Echo will not be ready for show in the exhibit for about a month. “He needs to get used to his new routine as well as getting used to the zoo staff and to the other cougars,” Van Der Molen said. “He will let us know when he is ready.” Van Der Molen said it is important to remember that Echo is a wild animal and is scared in this new location, so he is acting defensive right now as he should be because he is not a pet. “I hope that readers understand that it’s illegal to have wild animals as pets,” Van Der Molen said. “Now Echo is not able to live in the wild because someone kept him captive as an illegal pet. It’s not fair, healthy or safe for these animals to be kept as pets.” While at the Folsom sanctuary, Van Der Molen said staff works to keep these more than 80 rescued animals as healthy and active as possible while being enclosed. While Echo will cost the zoo more money with food and staffing, she said he is a positive addition “being one more animal that we are able to care for, throughout his lifespan, because he would have been euthanized otherwise.” “To care for these wild animals we have a routine ourselves,” she said. “We clean and feed them once a day, clean and sanitize holding pens, pools and food and water bowls. We also prepare all of the animals’ meals. Cougars are carnivores, so regularly eat meat. We try to switch it up between beef, chicken, and other meat products. In the wild, cougars would not eat the same meal everyday, so we try to mimic that lifestyle as best we can.” The zoo has been providing sanctuary to rescued wild animals since 1963. All animals are non-releasable, and many were raised, and rejected, as wild pets. Other animals were injured or orphaned in the wild. Van Der Molen said most are native to North America and all have names and personalities. To help visitors better understand, their individual stories are posted at the exhibits, along with factual, up-to-date information about their species. “Our primary goal is teaching responsible behavior toward all animals,” said Van Der Molen. The sanctuary is located in Folsom City Park at Natoma and Stafford streets at 403 Stafford St., Folsom. To learn more about the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary or donate money to help continued care for the rescued animals, call (916) 351-3527.