OLYMPIA - Three cougar kittens found near an eastern King County home in late August will be transferred to the Memphis Zoo where they will be able to live together.
The move to Tennessee follows a nationwide search and is expected in two to three weeks. The cats will remain at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) Lynnwood facility until state and federal health certificates and transfer permits are issued.
The kittens were found Aug. 21 by a Duvall homeowner on her property. The kittens were delivered to PAWS the following day and were believed to be about five weeks old.
Based on DNA testing, it's virtually certain that the kittens are the offspring of an adult female cougar killed in the same area on Aug. 9 by a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) enforcement officer. The adult cougar was shot after she attacked and killed small livestock in Duvall.
Cougar experts say the kittens are too young to have the survival skills to be returned to the wild. Rehabilitation and release of the cougars was explored but not found to be a suitable option. WDFW then began a search for an appropriate permanent home for the kittens.
"We appreciate the exceptional care that the cougar kittens have received at the PAWS Wildlife Center," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. "The dedication that PAWS staff have shown in treating these young cats has been nothing short of tremendous."
PAWS will transfer the kittens to WDFW once they have been given a clean bill of health. Animal handlers from the Memphis Zoo will fly to Seattle and escort the cougars to their new home, said Dr. Chuck Brady, zoo president and CEO.
"We're very excited to receive these cats and look forward to caring for them," Brady said, adding that the cougar kittens will be quarantined for 30 days at the zoo's animal medical center before permanent placement in the four-acre Cat Country exhibit.
Koenings said the Memphis Zoo was selected as the kittens' permanent home because the facility met all of the criteria that WDFW had established prior to its national search.
"The Memphis Zoo is accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which ensures the facility meets the highest standards," Koenings said.
"All three cats can be placed in the same facility, and they will not be moved from the zoo to other locations for educational purposes, nor will they be allowed to breed or be subjected to de-clawing or tooth removal," he said.
Koenings said staff from PAWS and Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo assisted WDFW in its search for a suitable permanent home for the cats.