What to Know
- An 11-month-old female cougar was removed from a New York City home last week after the owner surrendered the animal, authorities announced Monday.
- The Humane Society of the United States was with the owner, who surrendered the 80-pound cougar Thursday night.
- The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and NYPD worked to coordinate the animal's safe removal from the home and transport her to the Bronx Zoo. Once there she was examined and cared for by veterinarians and animal care staff over the weekend until her transport to an Arkansas animal sanctuary Monday afternoon.
An 11-month-old female cougar was removed from a New York City home last week after the owner surrendered the animal, authorities said Monday.
The Humane Society of the United States was on scene with the owner who surrendered the 80-pound cougar Thursday night. Meanwhile, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and NYPD also worked toward the animal's safe removal from the home and transported her to the Bronx Zoo, where she was examined and cared for by veterinarians and staff over the weekend until her transport to an Arkansas animal sanctuary Monday afternoon.
The cougar, nicknamed Sasha, is heading to Turpentine Creek, an accredited sanctuary where she will receive lifelong care.
According to officials, New York has long seen cases involving wild and dangerous animals in private residences that threaten public safety. Such cases include one in 2003 where the NYPD removed an adult tiger from a Harlem apartment with the assistance of Bronx Zoo staff, and another in 2004 when a child in Suffolk County was attacked by his father’s pet leopard.
Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said that the general public cannot meet the "complex needs" of cougars.
“A majestic species native to the United States and much of the Americas, cougars thrive in their natural habitats, not in a city home," Amundson said. "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.
Overall, in 2020, New York increased its regulation of ownership of wild animals.
Director of Animal Disaster Response for the Humane Society of the United States Kelly Donithan, who was on scene with the cougar and helped with her transport, said that in this case the owner, who lives in the Bronx, realized that the wild cat was not a good fit to live in a domestic environment, but other animals aren't as lucky.
“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," Donithan said in a statement. "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.’ 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."
NYSDEC Commissioner Basil Seggos echoed similar sentiments saying in a statement "wildlife like cougars are not pets."
"While cougars may look cute and cuddly when young, these animals can grow up to be unpredictable and dangerous," Seggos said. "NYSDEC is thankful to our partners at the New York Police Department, the Humane Society of the United States, Bronx Zoo Wildlife Conservation Society, and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge for their efforts to advance the surrender of this wild animal and transport it to a safe location.”
Bronx Zoo director Jim Breheny said the exotic pet trade makes no contribution to the conservation of endangered species.
“These animals often end up in very bad situations, kept by private individuals who don’t have the resources, facilities, knowledge, or expertise to provide for the animals’ most basic needs,” Breheny said. "In addition to these welfare concerns for the animals, the keeping of big cats by private people poses a real safety hazard to the owner, the owner’s family and the community at large.”
New York has seen other notable cases involving dangerous animals in private residences, including Ming, a 400-pound tiger that 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 the Noah’s Lost Ark Exotic Animal Rescue Center in Ohio.
Meanwhile, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said the case is currently under investigation and no further information is available at this time.