An 11-month-old cougar cub was taken from a New York City apartment last week, after the cougar’s owner realized they would need to surrender the big cat.
The New York City health code prohibits residents from owning cougars, along with other big cats like panthers, leopards, and tigers.
The owner contacted Turpentine Creek, a wildlife refuge in Arkansas that specializes in the care of big cats, about potentially arranging a surrender of the 80-pound female cub. Turpentine Creek then reached out to the Humane Society of the United States, which was on the scene on August 26th when the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and members of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit and Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad arrived to remove the cub from the Bronx apartment.
The cub, whose name is Sasha, was taken to the Bronx Zoo, where she received care from veterinary and animal care staff until leaving for Arkansas on Monday afternoon.
Kelly Donithan, director of animal disaster response for the Humane Society, who helped facilitate the transport, said in a statement. “I’ve never seen a cougar in the wild, but I’ve seen them on leashes, smashed into cages, and crying for their mothers when breeders rip them away. I’ve also seen the heartbreak of owners, like in this case, after being sold not just a wild animal, but a false dream that they could make a good ‘pet.’ This cougar is relatively lucky that her owners recognized a wild cat is not fit to live in an apartment or any domestic environment.”
She continued, “The owner’s tears and nervous chirps from the cougar as we drove her away painfully drives home the many victims of this horrendous trade and myth that wild animals belong anywhere but the wild. We are thankful to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and everyone who was involved in dealing with this complex situation for helping make this rescue possible.”
“Wildlife like cougars are not pets,” said NYSDEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “While cougars may look cute and cuddly when young, these animals can grow up to be unpredictable and dangerous.”
Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo, echoed these sentiments, saying that “the keeping of big cats by private people poses a real safety hazard to the owner, the owner’s family, and the community at large.”
The Humane Society Legislative Fund urged Congress to pass the the Big Cat Public Safety Act, introduced earlier this year, which would further restrict breeding and possession of big cats by non-qualified people and groups.
Famously, in October 2003, a 425-pound tiger was removed from a Harlem apartment after the NYPD shot him with a tranquilizer dart from outside the building. The authorities only found out about the tiger when Ming’s owner, Antoine Yates, went to the hospital for a tiger bite (Ming bit him when Yates tried to defend a kitten from the tiger). Ming was taken to a wildlife refuge in Ohio, where he lived until his death in 2019. Long before that, in the 1930s, a woman lived with a panda in her New York City apartment.