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Associated Press
This Oct. 28 image courtesy of Dave Garnetti shows Zia with a bottle.

Cute break: Rescued cougar cub finds forever home

AP
This March 5 image courtesy of the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park shows Zia at 5 months.

CARLSBAD, N.M. – An orphaned mountain lion cub rescued by a hunter in Washington has found a home in southern New Mexico.

Zia was discovered last October stumbling through rows of wheat stubble. So dehydrated, she could hardly make a sound and was too weak to stand.

Dave Garnetti of Davenport, Wash., said he and a friend had driven through hundreds of acres of wheat fields scouting for deer when they spotted the tiny creature. They got out of their truck and approached, surprised to find that it was a baby mountain lion.

Garnetti said they were shocked because such encounters are extremely rare. And the men were nervous, expecting the cub's mother to be near.

The mother was nowhere to be found, and the cub's condition indicated something had likely happened to her. They knew the cub wouldn't survive the cold or the coyotes that were in the area.

Garnetti wrapped the cub in his jacket and placed her in his backpack and headed back to town. He and his family nursed the animal back to health before turning it over to authorities with the Washington Game and Fish Department.

"This little cougar miracle became part of our families, playing with our dogs and kids and even sleeping in bed with us," he told the Carlsbad Current-Argus in a letter (http://bit.ly/Qg0Rwk ).

His wife, a registered nurse, used a syringe to feed the cub powdered kitten formula. Within days, the cub was drinking 8 ounces at a time.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park in Carlsbad had been looking for a mountain lion when it learned about Zia and another orphaned cub from California named Zuzax. The zoo ended up taking in both cubs.

Now, zookeepers say Zia is a healthy 30-pound cat with a thick coat.

General curator Holly Payne said zoo staff spent a couple of weeks bringing the two new lions together with Living Desert's resident female mountain lion, Mounti. By early March, the three appeared to be getting along.

"It's been a very slow process," Payne said. "We have watched each cat's behaviors to make sure there are no problems."

Payne said the Garnetti family did what was best for Zia by turning her in to wildlife officials. She urged anyone who finds a baby wild animal to notify a professional wildlife rehabilitator.

Young animals such as Zia are so appealing that people forget how large and strong they become in a short time.

"We are trying to educate people that wild animals do not make good pets," Payne said.

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