Mac the Mountain Lion

You would think that making a hotel reservation in San Francisco 10 months in advance might guarantee you would show up on the appointed day. You would think that by talking about this proposed trip to your fellow staff members, every day, all day, starting a week in advance would promote your cause and that you would, indeed (for once), be on time. San Francisco isn’t that far away.


My choice of careers sometimes leaves me sweating. We work by appointment but I rarely bother to check my schedule. Planning ahead is great but means nothing because truly, illness is not planned, nor are emergency hit-by-cars or BBBD’s (Bit by Big Dogs) or other accidents. So I show up on time and pack my lunch. From there I proceed as directed. Helping animals is interesting and fulfilling for me and it is rare for me to begrudge an intrusion into my “personal” time.


I felt a little frisson of apprehension when Donna, the Zookeeper of Merced City’s Applegate Park Zoo, mentioned that Mac wasn’t eating. It was the day before I was supposed to leave. Mac is our Mountain Lion. He and I go way back – so far back that he is actually my namesake! Mac was sent to the Zoo as an orphaned cub weighing only 5 pounds. Mountain Lions (felis concolor) are also known as cougars or pumas. They range in the foothills and mountainous areas of our region. Our Zoo cares for a population of native wildlife that has been orphaned or injured, deemed non-releasable to the wild and would otherwise be humanely euthanized. We provide these animals a safe home and in turn provide an educational resource for our community to learn about the birds and animals indigenous to our area, from the waterfowl that migrate through our great Valley to our unique variety of Birds of Prey. We are enriched by the mountain lion, bobcats, black bears, foxes, coyote, and deer found within our zoo and native from Merced up to Yosemite National Park.


Mac was spotted and spunky, with a baby “roar” that sent shivers down your spine. He had to be bottle fed, but didn’t tolerate the Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR) he’d been started on. I called a wildlife expert at UC Davis and they advised that tigers and lions should not be fed KMR, only smaller cats. Who knew? We straightened out his formula and Donna, the Zookeeper, put hours of care into bringing him back around.  Mac was vaccinated, microchipped and neutered and grew into a gorgeous, well-muscled young lion. In the early morning hours he could be found intently creeping along the ground, stalking young visitors outside his pen. The kids never noticed. Donna he fell in love with, and will answer her and purr just at the sight of his foster Mom. For Donna’s part, she respects his wild nature. Donna knows that one playful swipe of his enormous paw could gut her. She stays outside his fence at all times.


Animals in the Zoo have the benefit of living much longer lives than they might in the wild, being well fed and receiving medical care. On the downside, they are not as active nor do they have the stimulus of hunting for their food. Avid zookeepers search for ways to enrich the environment of their charges and many novel sights may meet your eyes as you tour the Applegate Zoo. Mac has a log cabin and a very high “mountain perch”. He has a large “kiddie” swimming pool which he especially enjoys in the summer and has been known to nap in. Mac the Mountain Lion also loves soft cuddly towels but may not have them because he eats them.


The Zoo is supported in part by the Zoo Society, through fundraisers. Each year for Halloween they put on “Zoo Boo”, decorating the Zoo in spooky costumes and offering safe trick-or-treating. Mac hates Zoo Boo. Like the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, he hates the noise, noise, noise! So when he went off his food this year, no one was worried at first. But 2 days went by, the ghosts and goblins were gone and still he wasn’t eating. Now, a Mountain Lion who needs an exam is no easy patient. So at noon on Friday (San Francisco on hold) we had to squeeze him up close enough for me to inject an anesthetic. Once asleep, I examined his mouth for anything caught in the back of his throat but it was clean, so off we went to the vet hospital. An x-ray of his abdomen revealed that his stomach was packed full of “something” that didn’t belong there! Into surgery went Mac! We opened up his abdomen and hefted out a very heavy stomach. Once opened in a procedure called a gastrotomy we removed 2.2 pounds of firehose, wadded up in big mountain lion-sized bite sized pieces. Mac had been offered this as a play toy for “enrichment” but had chewed it up and eaten it instead. Many sutures later he was all put back together and returned to his home at the Zoo, where he is making a full recovery and already looking for more mischief to get into. And yes, I made it to San Francisco after all. Good grief!


Christine B. McFadden, DVM


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