An 11-month-old puma was removed from an apartment in New York City where it was illegally kept as a pet, animal welfare officials said.
The owners of the 79-lb (36kg) female surrendered the animal last Thursday, said Kelly Donithan, director of animal disaster preparedness for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
The cougar, named Sasha, was taken to the Bronx Zoo for veterinary treatment. On Monday, officials transported it to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, where it will receive lifelong care.
HSUS coordinated the removal with zoo officials, New York police and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said the case was under investigation.
Donithan was on site with the cougar and facilitated transportation.
“I have never seen a puma in the wild,” she said, “but I have seen them on a leash, smashed in cages, and weeping for their mothers when breeders tear them away.”
According to Donithan, the cougar’s Bronx-based owners realized that a wild animal was not suitable for living in an apartment and called for help.
“The owner’s tears and nervous chirping from the puma as we drove her away painfully drive the many victims home for this horrific trade and myth that wild animals belong everywhere other than the wild,” Donithan said.
It was not the first time a wild cat ended up in an apartment in New York. In 2001, Antoine Yates, a 31-year-old construction worker, brought an eight-week-old tiger cub into her home in a housing project in Harlem.
After eating 20 pounds of chicken thighs a day for two years, the kid, named Ming, grew into a 423-pound adult Siberian-Bengali tiger. In 2003, authorities removed the animal from Yates’ apartment along with a 5-foot (1.5 m) alligator named Al kept in a fiberglass tank.
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.
Speaking of the cougar found in the Bronx, Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo, said the exotic pet trade does not contribute to the conservation of endangered species.
“These animals often end up in very bad situations, held by individuals who do not have the resources, facilities, knowledge or expertise to meet the animals’ most basic needs,” he said.