Koda, our nearly 4-month-old mountain lion kitten who came to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in June after being found alone on a logging road in Washington, will soon start introductions with one-year-old mountain lions Adira and Sitka. For now, Koda is still too small to safely explore the outdoor mountain lion spaces, so he has access to three indoor dens each night and all four indoor dens during the day, when Adira and Sitka are outside.
With chain link fencing between them for safety, the three mountain lions have constant protected access to each other. Known as ‘howdies,’ this initial phase in introducing animals gives them opportunities to see, smell and hear each other, or to choose to walk away. Keepers have been observing the cats’ reactions to each other, and say that little Koda had an immediate affinity for Adira.
“Koda was very aware that Adira is female,” said Courtney Rogers, Rocky Mountain Wild lead keeper. “When we first started howdies, he immediately ran up to the fence and would call to her. She would call back and go over to him. As she should as the senior in the situation, she puts him in his place when he gets too rowdy by giving him a calm little growl or a quick swat at the fence. Koda responds submissively, which is a good indication they’re ready for a full introduction.”
Sitka, the older male, is interested in Koda, but prefers to watch him from a distance and have the choice to interact or not. At first, Koda’s sudden movements startled Sitka, which made him feel like he needed to protect himself. Recently, keepers have seen Sitka and Koda making progress, too.
“Now Sitka will sleep through Koda’s kitten antics, which is a sign that he’s getting more comfortable around him,” said Rogers. “Sitka will demonstrate that he’s not a threat through his body language and Koda mirrors that, which is great. Adira and Sitka share the same space during howdies, with Koda his in own space. Adira and the kitten are getting along so great that her presence helps Sitka feel calmer around Koda. Some mornings, we come in to find Sitka and Koda cuddled up right next to each other on either side of the fence.”
Based on them sharing the most positive interactions, Koda will meet Adira first. Introducing felines is always delicate, so the team will monitor the cats throughout introductions and follow the animals’ leads. The keepers have determined a list of prerequisite skills that all of the mountain lions need to know before introductions. These behaviors will allow keepers to intervene if necessary and hopefully avoid any potentially harmful interactions. Because Adira and Koda’s introductions will be separate from Sitka, the keepers also need to help Adira and Sitka feel comfortable being separated from each other.
The introduction between Adira and Koda will likely take place in the off-exhibit den, since Koda is too small for the outdoor yards. That means Adira needs to feel confident in the dens without Sitka.
“We’ve been working on variations of Sitka and Adira sharing space and being separate,” said Rogers. “We make sure we give them something to occupy their time when they’re separated, like ice treats or paper to shred. After a couple of hours, we’ll give them a little meatball and then reunite them. They’re happy to be reunited, but aren’t showing signs of stress being separated.”
Koda has also been getting used to the sights and sounds of guests walking by from inside the den. Keen-eyed guests might have spotted the little guy inside the den during the day when he can come right up to the mesh gate that leads into the den.
“It’s been a good opportunity to make him more aware of his environment and let him choose to be there, which he does from time to time,” said Rogers. “Sometimes if you stand near the gate just before you enter the mountain lion cave, you can hear him playing rambunctiously inside and very seldom you can see him. He’s watching usually from a couple of dens back.”
The spotted kitten weighs only about 14 pounds now. He needs to grow quite a bit more before guests will see him outside. But, his keepers are sure that once guests meet him, they will fall in love with him, too.
“He’s ridiculous in the most adorable way,” said Rogers. “He gets the zoomies a lot. He gets these wild eyes and holds his head back and his pupils get really big. He’ll see you coming, hide behind a log and out of nowhere just leap out and run top speed to jump up and tackle a toy near you. The other day he stood like a meerkat for like 45 seconds. He’s outgoing, vocal and full of energy. We can’t wait to share him with everyone.”
Once Koda is big enough to explore the outdoor yards, we will share that information so guests can come and see him in Rocky Mountain Wild.