Social media darlings Hazel and Holly didn’t always spend their time posing for cameras in California’s Oakland Zoo. These two mountain lion cubs were both found wandering around the residential areas near Santa Cruz. Hear how they went from orphaned cubs to best friends.
Meet your new favorite mountain lion cubs: Hazel and Holly
You may have encountered a stray kitten in your backyard, but have you ever seen a mountain lion cub? In December 2022, a homeowner in Santa Cruz noticed a lone cub on her property and alerted the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The department waited to see if the cub’s mother would return. Once the mother didn’t come back and the team noticed the cub’s poor condition, the cub was brought to the Oakland Zoo to be examined.
Dr. Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services, determined the cub was between three to four months old and was critically ill. The cub was treated with fluids, vitamins, anti-nausea medication and anti-parasitics. She was named Holly.
A few weeks later, a second mountain lion cub was spotted by a resident in Soquel, California, who called Native Animal Rescue of Santa Cruz County and was connected to CDFW. The department again determined that no mother mountain lion was around, so this cub was also brought to the Oakland Zoo.
The second cub was determined to be between four to five months old and was severely emaciated, weighing around 12 pounds. She also suffered from severe anemia and hypoglycemia. Oakland Zoo’s veterinary team gave the cub fluids and a warm and cozy bed. By morning, her vital signs had improved. The team named her Hazel.
Road to recovery
Hazel and Holly both had a long way to be fully recovered. The cubs needed to build their strength, gain weight and learn what it’s really like to be a mountain lion.
At first, the cubs spent time in separate enclosures, focusing on recovery. Holly worked with the zookeepers to build her physical strength and a strong connection with her caretakers. She loved exploring her area and doing enrichment activities. But it wasn’t all hard work — she also enjoyed a long cat nap.
Since she was found very underweight, Hazel’s main focus of recovery was learning to eat on her own. This took time as her body wasn’t accustomed to digesting food regularly. So, the zookeepers had to feed her in small amounts, five times per day. As time went on, she needed their help less and less and could eventually eat on her own.
Introducing the cubs
When it comes to introducing two mountain lion cubs, slow and steady is key. First, the cubs were only able to hear each other through the walls of their respective areas. Next, they could greet one another through a fenced doorway. The staff noted, in typical cat fashion, both cubs played it cool, not showing too much excitement to meet one another.
In February, the cubs were fully introduced, and a friendship was born. Since each cub was so young when they were rescued, it was important to introduce them to each other so they could learn from one another how to be a mountain lion. Hazel and Holly got to know each other with mutual grooming, as well as plenty of wrestling and chasing.
The zoo’s hospital keeper noted their different personalities. “Holly is a little shy but very spicy — she’s not afraid to use her voice and show us how big and scary she is. Hazel, on the other hand, is very laid back. Holly seems to be the instigator when it comes to play. Hazel can often be seen snoozing and letting the rambunctious Holly do her thing.”
Can the cubs return to the wild?
Wild mountain lions spend up to two years with their mothers learning survival skills. Sadly, both Hazel and Holly were orphaned between three-to-five months old. As they didn’t have enough time to learn how to live independently, neither cub will return to the wild.
The good news is both cubs have graduated from the zoo’s veterinary hospital to the California Trail area. There, they’ll get to know the resident mountain lions along the fence line. Hazel and Holly will also be able to further strengthen their muscles, explore and climb bigger structures. They can also encounter the sounds and smells of other zoo animals and human visitors.
Soon, the cubs will move to their forever home at Big Bear Alpine Zoo in southern California, which was specially selected for the cubs by the CDFW. There, they’ll continue to receive excellent care and will be animal ambassadors, highlighting the need to reduce human-wildlife conflict.
How Oakland Zoo helps other mountain lions
Holly was the 23rd mountain lion rescue taken in at the Oakland Zoo’s veterinary hospital since 2017, including Rose, whose story we covered in 2022. With mountain lions native to California, the zoo is dedicated to helping any abandoned big cats. In ideal conditions, mountain lions can survive in the California wild. But factors such as rainstorms, cold weather, wildfires or vehicular accidents can cause some cubs to be abandoned by their mothers.
In 2012, Oakland Zoo took part in training on human-wildlife conflict resolution. This led to the Bay Area Cougar Action Team, an alliance of wildlife agencies, nonprofits, local parks, CDFW and mountain lion researchers. Together, the team can share research and insights to help mountain lions across California and beyond.
In addition, Oakland Zoo is committed to conservation, investing over $1 million in contributions to support 25 partner conservation organizations worldwide. Likewise, the zoo rescues and rehabilitates numerous local species including mountain lions, California condors, black-crowned night herons, native yellow-legged frogs, riparian brush rabbits and western pond turtles.
Conservation doesn’t stop with the animals. A large part of the zoo’s mission is to share the love of animals and how to help protect them with visitors. Each visitor can see new animals and become a part of the next generation of conservationists.
Hazel and Holly may just be mountain lion cubs, but their impact goes beyond their native California. Together, these two cubs can highlight the need to conserve wildlife and live in harmony with our wild neighbors.
For more Hazel and Holly cubdates, be sure to follow the Oakland Zoo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Or watch them live on the zoo’s CUBcam!
Discover the world of big cats in the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild episode, “Crossing Cougar Country,” where the crew travels from Florida to Los Angeles to tell the story of mountain lions in the wild.