CDFG ignores orphaned cubs and punishes rescue group.

A year ago two tiny mountain lion kittens exposed a huge hole in California’s mountain lion protection policies.  Even the state known for setting the standard in lion protection still has work to do before mountain lions will truly be “specially protected.”  The ban on hunting lions for fun was only a first step; clarifying policies and facilitating communication between the state Department of Fish & Game, wildlife rescue groups, and the public, remain on the “to-do” list.  These two kittens learned about the short-comings firsthand.

The California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG) is the state agency responsible for managing wildlife and protecting mountain lions  Unfortunately, that protection was put to the test on April 3, 2009, when two malnourished orphaned cougar cubs wandered into the community of Solvang.
The cubs had been seen on a golf course and in town without their mother for over a week and appeared to be scavenging for food from a dumpster.  Only three-months-old, the cats were too young to survive on their own and members of the community felt it was time someone stepped in to help.  When CDFG failed to respond, on the ground and ready to help was Animal Rescue Team executive director Julia Di Sieno with her volunteers.  Although still in the process of obtaining permit approval to hold mountain lions, Julia’s staff were well trained and one of the few wildlife rescue facilities recognized by the state.  They quickly captured and transported the two spotted kittens to the ART facility near Santa Barbara in their wildlife ambulance and a veterinarian began medical treatment.
Although this story could have had a happy ending – a local group stepping up to help the story is far from over. Due to the fact Julia’s team technically broke the law by handling, transporting, and caring for two mountain lions (why is this illegal?), local CDFG officers – agents simply doing their job – showed up and confiscated the kittens.  Julia later received notice that the Department intended to press charges against her and could choose to revoke her facility’s license.

The kittens then faced a rocky future which included a bumpy ride in the back of a CDFG pickup truck, spending the night crammed together in a dog crate at a pet hospital, transportation to yet another facility, exams from a second round of vets, ultimately being split up well over a year before they would have in the wild, and sent to zoos on opposite sides of the country.  The kitten sent to the east coast was subjected to additional trauma by an airport worker who paraded the cat around for his buddies.  The second kitten eventually found a home at the Folsom Zoo located just outside of Sacramento, California.  Although both cats are wary of people, and rightly so, zoo staff remain hopeful they will eventually settle down and begin to trust their caretakers.  As for Julia and the Animal Rescue Team, an outpour of public support and a meeting with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney resulted in charges not being filed against her, but CDFG will be monitoring her facility closely.

This was an appalling outcome for a situation where a rescue team was only trying to help their community and the native wildlife.  Every state entrusts the welfare of their wild animals to the state game agency.  In California, residents have told CDFG twice through ballot measures that mountain lions are special and should be treated with extra care.  Yet, twenty years later, policies still have not been written, nor does CDFG seem willing to work with the numerous qualified groups, such as the Mountain Lion Foundation, that are eager to help.  In this case, CDFG proved they are still more concerned with their ego and maintaining power than doing what is right for the state’s mountain lions.  How many more ballot measures and mistreated kittens will it take before they get the message?

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