NEW YORK (AP) – An 80-pound cougar has been pulled from a New York City apartment where she was being illegally held as a pet, animal welfare officials said on Monday.
The owner of the 11-month-old female cougar returned the animal on Thursday, Kelly Donithan, director of animal disaster response for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a press release.
The cougar, nicknamed Sasha, spent the weekend at the Bronx Zoo receiving veterinary care and is now heading to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, officials said.
The Humane Society has coordinated with zoo officials, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and the New York City Police Department on the elimination of the big cat.
“I’ve never seen a cougar in the wild, but I’ve seen them on a leash, run over in cages and crying for their mothers when breeders pull them off,” Humane Society’s Donithan said. “I also saw the owners’ grief, as in this case after selling not only a wild animal, but a false dream that they could make a good ‘pet’.
Donithan said this cougar was relatively lucky because her owners, who live in the Bronx, recognized that a feral cat was not fit to live in an apartment and abandoned her.
“The tears of the owner and the nervous chirps of the cougar as we hunted her painfully bring home the many victims of this horrific trade and the myth that wild animals belong anywhere but nature,” said Donithan.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said that while cougars “may look cute and cuddly when they are young, these animals can become unpredictable and dangerous as they grow older.”
Bronx Zoo director Jim Breheny said the exotic animal trade is not helping the conservation of endangered species.
“These animals often find themselves in very bad situations, cared for by individuals who do not have the resources, facilities, knowledge or expertise to meet the most basic needs of the animals,” Breheny said. “In addition to these animal welfare concerns, the keeping of big cats by individuals poses a real danger to the safety of the owner, his family and the community in general. “
New York has seen other notable cases involving dangerous animals in private residences, including Ming, a 400-pound tiger who was removed from a Harlem apartment in 2003.
Ming’s owner Antoine Yates was arrested and sentenced to five months in prison for reckless endangerment. Ming died in 2019 at Noah’s Lost Ark Exotic Animal Rescue Center in Ohio.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said the cougar case “is currently under investigation and no further information is available at this time.”