Orphaned Wyoming Mountain Lion Cubs Find Home In South Dakota Zoo

At least two of four orphaned mountain lion cubs captured last year near Pinedale are thriving at a South Dakota wildlife park.

Mark Heinz

April 20, 20234 min read

Wyoming Game and Fish Department wardens captured four orphaned 6-month-old orphaned mountain lion cubs near Pinedale last year. They were taken to the Bear Country USA zoo in South Dakota.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department wardens captured four orphaned 6-month-old orphaned mountain lion cubs near Pinedale last year. They were taken to the Bear Country USA zoo in South Dakota. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A delivery driver making the rounds last spring in a housing development near Pinedale spotting something that shouldn’t come as a total surprise in Wyoming, but was still jarring.

Four rambunctious mountain lion cubs had taken up residents under one of the home’s porches. The delivery man promptly alerted the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

“The house was vacant at the time, the owner lives there seasonally,” Brian DeBolt, Game and Fish large carnivore conflict coordinator, told Cowboy State Daily.

“They were about 6 months old, maybe old enough to catch small prey,” he said. “They were still spotted and wouldn’t survive very long without their mom to take care of them.”


Game and Fish set up a camera nearby and started video surveillance of the cubs — three females and a male — to see if momma mountain lion was still around.

She wasn’t.

“We put up a camera and monitored them for several days, and no mother showed up,” DeBolt said. “So we decided to round them up before they starved. We just never had any indication of what happened to their mother.”

How Do We Do This?

Game wardens faced the quandary of how to capture the young cats without injuring them, or getting hurt themselves.

Game and Fish typically uses tranquilizer darts to subdue adult mountain lions that wander into inhabited areas, as several have recently.

However, that was too risky for the cubs, which weighed about 40 pounds each. And trying to capture them with neck snares on a polelike dog catchers sometimes use for wayward pooches would have been too risky for personnel, DeBolt said.

“I deal with bears a lot, but pound-for-pound, mountain lions are unbelievable predators,” he said. “They are just an unbelievably powerful animal.”

Wardens opted for baited live trap cages, which eventually worked.

“It was, literally, herding cats,” DeBolt said. “It wasn’t easy.”

Off To South Dakota

Once the cubs were safely captured and deemed healthy, Game and Fish faced the next problem. What to do with them? They were too young to have any chance of surviving in the wild.

After some searching, DeBolt found a new home for them at Bear Country USA, a wildlife preserve and zoo near Rapid City, South Dakota.

“We decided that was a good place to send them, because Bear County USA is fully certified by the AZA (American Association of Zoosand Aquariums) and capable of caring for animals such as mountain lions,” he said.

The last he heard from the zoo, the Wyoming cubs were doing well, DeBolt said.

Messages left for the owners of Bear Country USA weren’t returned by the time this story was posted. However, recent posts on the zoo’s website indicate that at least two of the Wyoming cubs still live there, keeping company with a hand-raised mountain lion cub named “Doc.”

Family Groups

The Wyoming cubs would just now be hitting full maturity, DeBolt said. Mountain lions can stay with their mothers until they are about 18 months, and some linger even longer.

Mature mountain lions are imposing creatures, weighing up to 100-150 pounds, DeBolt said. So, running across a mother mountain lion and her nearly grown cubs in the wild can be daunting.

“When people talk about seeing ‘a pride’ of mountain lions, what they’re seeing are these family groups,” he said. “They’re seeing a mother with older cubs that might be as big as she is, if not even larger.”

Share this article



Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter