A Busy First Year…

Andrew Di Salvo, DVM, the inaugural Free-Ranging Wildlife Health Veterinary Resident with the CDFW Wildlife Investigations Laboratory and the UC Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, shares a photo from each month of his first year…

A California Native Receives a Warm Welcome in Arizona

If you ever find yourself in Tucson, Arizona, stop by the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum (ASDM) and say hi to a California native … mountain lion that is. The zoo recently took in a wayward mountain lion cub that had been orphaned this past March.

This young California native is the new mascot of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) and is looking for a name. Information for the naming contest can be found by clicking here. Photo credit: Rhonda Spencer, ASDM.

This young California native is the new mascot of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) and is looking for a name. Information for the naming contest can be found by visitng the ASDM home page. Photo credit: Rhonda Spencer, ASDM.

Malnourished and emaciated, this cub found itself in a precarious situation – hiding among bushes in a residential backyard in San Jose. The homeowner contacted local authorities including wildlife officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). With the assistance of the San Jose Police Department, local animal control, and Wildlife Emergency Services (WES), CDFW successfully captured the cub and transported him to the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley (WCSV), where the lion was sedated and examined. Although the cub was bright, alert and responsive at the time of capture, he was very dehydrated and in poor body condition (emaciated), weighing only 15 pounds. He also had a severe flea and tick infestation.  WCSV volunteers gave the cub fluids, applied flea control, and moved him to a secured area to rest overnight until the cub could be transported to CDFW’s Wildlife Investigation Laboratory (WIL) in Rancho Cordova for further evaluation and medical care by a state wildlife veterinarian.

Once at WIL, the cub received additional treatments that included fluids, antibiotics, a dewormer, and tick treatment. Further diagnostic testing was performed including a complete blood panel, feline leukemia/feline immunodeficiency virus test, and fecal exam. Although his blood work was normal and the disease testing was negative, the cub would continue to be closely monitored by WIL veterinarians and staff over the next few weeks for signs of illness. While it is common for female mountain lions to briefly leave their young while they hunt, the severity of this cub’s emaciation led wildlife professionals to suspect that this cub had been orphaned. As to why he was orphaned was uncertain – it is possible that his mother was killed, but he could have also been abandoned due to ailing health.

The Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL) provides safe, temporary placement of wildlife that has been confiscated, orpahned or injured animals, or "nuissance" animals. We are not a rehab facility and it is not our goal to remove otherwise healthy individuals from the wild - unless an extreme situation requires the permanent captivity of an individual. Once in a while animals come to our veterinarians in need of serious medical care. Our veterinarians must decide what is ethical and humane. For this young lion, he was emaciated and starving but otherwise healthy.

Although the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL) is not a rehabilitation facility, occasionally WIL has to intervene in wildlife animal welfare conflicts. Our devoted team of wildlife veterinarians, biologists and WIL administrative staff assist to provide safe, temporary placement for “wayward wildlife.” For some wildlife in need of serious medical care, our veterinarians must decide what is ethical and humane with regards to their treatment and recovery. It is illegal to rehabilitate and release mountain lions in California, and our veterinarians knew that with treatment this young lion would make a full recovery, so we contacted the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) – one of the nation’s leading outdoor-living museums.

Over the course of three weeks, WIL staff carefully reintroduced the emaciated cub to appropriate foods and, with the help of the Folsom Zoo, designed a balanced diet that would satisfy the nutritional needs for the growing cub. To keep the cub physically active, a variety of toys were introduced to encourage the cub’s curiosity and to give him lots of opportunities for play. It is during this course of time that WIL staff searched for a suitable facility that the cub could call home. It is currently illegal to rehabilitate mountain lions in California and thus it is our responsibility at WIL to find sanctuary placement for all confiscated and non-releasable mountain lions in appropriate permitted wildlife facilities. For this reason, WIL keeps in contact with zoos and nature centers all over the country that may have an interest in helping the department take animals that are in need of placement. This is how our little lion cub came to find a welcoming home at the ASDM.

Knowing ASDM’s strong commitment to wildlife conservation and their desire to help a non-releasable wild mountain lion in need of placement, it was an easy decision to call  and ask them if they were interested.  WIL knew this little mountain lion cub would have a large, beautiful natural enclosure to live in with plenty of good care.  WIL also knew that this mountain lion would capture the attention of the thousands of people who visited the ASDM and become the ambassador for the species country wide.

Mountain lion cub (Puma concolor). Photo courtesy Deana Clifford

Mountain lion cub (Puma concolor). Photo courtesy Deana Clifford

Once the cub was deemed healthy enough to travel and approvals for his placement were granted by both state wildlife agencies, the cub was transported by WIL staff to Blythe, California. The cub was transferred over to Arizona-Sonoran Desert staff early in the morning on April 15, 2013.

WIL would sincerely like to thank all of those involved in the safe capture and care of this mountain lion cub on March 9, 2013. We would also like to thank the Sacramento Zoo for providing frozen treats and vaccines and the Folsom Zoo for all of their assistance in creating a nutritionally balanced diet. Lastly, we would like to extend our gratitude to the ASDM for the wonderful care and welcome they have given this cub – updates and the official ASDM Press Release can be found by following the link.

Two New Publications on Mountain Lions


Wildlife Investigations Lab staff have recently coauthored and published two papers on mountain lions (puma concolor) in the April 2013 edition of the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.

In the article, Risk factors for exposure to feline pathogens in California mountain lions (Puma concolor) authors Foley, Swift, Fleer, Torres, Girard and Johnson investigate the challenge to mountain lion populations due to habitat loss and fragmentation and how these habitat impacts could enhance disease risk by increasing contact with domestic animals and by altering patterns of exposure to other wild felids. A serologic survey for feline pathogens in California mountain lions (Puma concolor) was performed using 490 samples from 45 counties collected from 1990 to 2008.

Read the article abstract at:

Journal of Wildlife Disease. April 2013 49:279-293; doi:10.7589/2012-08-206.

The paper titled Feline Infectious Peritonitis in a Mountain Lion (Puma concolor), California, USA, authors Stephenson, Swift, Moeller, Worth and Foley document the May 2010 case of a malnourished young adult male mountain lion Kern County, California, USA.  The mountain lion was euthanized because of concern for public safety, and a postmortem examination was performed. A PCR for coronavirus performed on kidney tissue was positive, confirming a diagnosis of Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Although coronavirus infection has been documented in mountain lions by serology, this is the first confirmed report of FIP. The virus can attack many organ systems and causes a broad range of signs, commonly including weight loss and fever. Regardless of presentation, FIP is ultimately fatal and often presents a diagnostic challenge.

Read the article abstract at:

Journal of Wildlife Diseases. April 2013 49:408-412; doi:10.7589/2012-08-210

Preview more publications by Wildlife Investigations Staff by clicking on the ‘publications’ tab.

Story of Two Mountain Lion Cubs

Mountain lions 'Kuma' and 'Kyla' at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue

Mountain lions ‘Kuma’ and ‘Kyla’ at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue
Photo Credit: Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue

Four years ago, the Wildlife Investigations Lab was involved in caring for two mountain lion cubs that had been victims of abuse at the hands of poachers.  Now that the prosecution of the poachers has concluded, their story can be told. Many wonderful groups and individuals have been involved in this case, from the care of these lions to the legal prosecution of the offenders. Please follow the links below for their story details.

Caring for Kuma and Kyla, a permanent home – Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue

Caring for the cubs and pursuing the poachers –  Department of Fish and Game Report

Prosecuting the poachers – Napa Deputy District Attorney’s Report