September 1, 2012

With a winning bid, you can name two cougars at Sedgwick County Zoo

Right now, they’re known as No. 8 and No. 9.

Right now, they’re known as No. 8 and No. 9.

But the Sedgwick County Zoo hopes a clever Zoobilee patron will find better names for its two female cougars. The right to name the cougars — also known as mountain lions, pumas and panthers — is up for grabs at the zoo’s annual fundraiser Sept. 8. The naming rights will be part of the event’s silent auction.

The cougars’ current names are based on the last digits of their International Species Information System identification numbers.

The cougars, who are sisters, are estimated to be about 2 years old. Born in South Dakota, they were orphaned in the wild at 3 months and have been at the zoo since they were 5 to 6 months old. They went on exhibit about a year ago, said Erin Melroy, the keeper for the zoo’s North American prairie exhibit.

On a recent day, the two cuddled together in their cave while the zoo’s other cougar, Payton, who is 11, lounged in his. Payton was hand-raised and is more used to humans than the females are. When No. 8 and No. 9 arrived at the zoo, Payton wanted to play with them, but they were dubious about it. He weighs about 130 pounds; they weigh about 80 pounds.

“Every so often he tries to initiate play, but they just hiss at him,” Melroy said, smiling.

Payton is neutered, and the girls are spayed. They will not be bred because cougars’ numbers are “pretty good,” Melroy said.

The sisters stick together and groom each other like house cats sometimes do. Payton is on his own for cleaning up.

“They definitely find security in each other,” Melroy said. “They’re like ‘This is my sister, and I love her.’ ”

No. 8 —who has a beauty mark of sorts under her left eye that helps Melroy identify her — is the braver of the two girls, Melroy said. She is more willing to approach zookeepers — with a mesh fence between them — for treats and training. No. 9 is more cautious.

Their area includes perches made of tree limbs. No. 9 climbs up to the limbs and rests her head where the limbs form a “Y,” her legs hanging down.

The cougars eat a meat mixture made for big cats in zoos. They also get whole prey, usually rabbit, and snack on pieces of trout and on mice. They get bones twice a week.

Their favorite food is the trout.

“They know when it’s fish day,” Melroy said.

The cougars, including Payton, are most active at the beginning of the day when they go on exhibit, usually between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.

On Friday, No. 8 approached the viewing window to peer at a baby. She batted one of her paws at the window.

Melissa Graham, a spokeswoman for the zoo, said this is the first year naming rights will be included in the silent auction, which will start at 6 p.m. Sept. 8. Graham said silent auction items typically sell for less than live auction items, so more people will get a chance to name the cougars.

Tickets to Zoobilee are $125.

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