Pet cougar living in NYC home surrendered, heading to sanctuary

BRONX (WABC) -- A pet cougar living in NYC was surrendered last week and is now headed to a sanctuary in Arkansas.

The 11-month-old, approximately 80-pound female cougar was surrendered from a Bronx home on Thursday night.

The Humane Society of the United States, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, NYPD and the Bronx Zoo all worked together last week to rescue the animal.

The big cat was taken to the Bronx Zoo where she was cared for by veterinarians and animal care staff over the weekend.

Investigators said the owner purchased the cougar out of state and had the nearly full-grown animal since it was a cub.

It was the cougar's still unidentified owner who first alerted the sanctuary after realizing an urban apartment in America's largest city is just not a good fit for a big cat carnivore that started to show signs of aggression.

"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,'" said Kelly Donithan, director of animal disaster response for the Humane Society of the United States. "This cougar is relatively lucky that her owners recognized a wild cat is not fit to live in an apartment or any domestic environment. 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."

Officials said the cougar was being transported to Turpentine Creek in Arkansas on Monday afternoon.

Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said, "A majestic species native to the United States and much of the Americas, cougars thrive in their natural habitats, not in a city home. Individuals and unqualified entities simply cannot meet these wild animals' complex needs. The sad situation from which Sasha is being rescued is a textbook example of why Congress must, once and for all, pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act."

If signed into law, the Big Cat Public Safety Act would strengthen existing laws to prohibit the breeding and possession of big cat species such as lions, tigers, cheetahs and jaguars, except by qualified entities.

New York has long seen cases involving dangerous animals in private residences that threaten public safety, including a case in 2003 where the NYPD removed an adult tiger from a Harlem apartment with the assistance of Bronx Zoo staff, and in 2004 when a child in Suffolk County was attacked by his father's pet leopard. The Bronx Zoo responds periodically to emergency calls by providing antivenom when individuals with exotic venomous snakes get bitten.

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