GRAY — She likes the oddly angled log. He likes his cozy straw bed. Both enjoy the extra space to stroll.

Maine Wildlife Park’s two cougars have a new home.

Park officials believe the enclosure is the largest of its kind in New England. It features indoor and outdoor areas, with a man-made cave, several pine trees, rocks and large logs outside, and individual dens inside.

Only the outside of the exhibit is open to the public. That public viewing area is lined with glass, giving visitors a clear view of the cats while muffling visitors’ noise so the cougars aren’t stressed.

“Before, (the crowds) were just in their face,” park Superintendent Curt Johnson said. “That’s why she pretty much lived in her den before. She rarely came out.”

The park, which cares for injured, orphaned and rescued wildlife, today will officially dedicate the new habitat to Connie Kippax, a former park volunteer whose favorite animal was the cougar. On Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the park will host a wild cat day, with special exhibits, activities and games, and special public feeding times for the park’s bobcats, lynxes and cougars. 

The events celebrate the opening of the cougar exhibit, a 3,500-square-foot habitat about seven times larger than the animals’ former enclosure and filled with boulders, logs and trees.

The park’s two cougars — also called mountain lions — moved in a month ago.

“That’s their little house they get to live in,” said Freeport teaching assistant Andra Fillmore, pointing out the exhibit to her first-graders during a field trip Thursday. “That’s pretty cushy.”

The male cougar was born at the park 19 years ago and has lived there since. The female, who is between 12 and 14 years old, arrived more than a decade ago from another facility. She had been someone’s pet.

The cougars’ old enclosure was spacious enough but had to be divided in two because the cats didn’t get along. They had rocks and trees, and a den each, but not a lot of space to roam.

About a year, park workers began building a new habitat for the animals. The project was largely funded by the Friends of the Maine Wildlife Park, with the help of donated labor and materials from other groups. The park, which does not get taxpayer money, also paid for some of the project. Johnson estimated the habitat cost more than $100,000, not including donated materials and labor. 

Park workers settled the cougars into their new home at the beginning of April. The cats were moved in separate cages, and were not sedated.

“It was interesting — most of us hadn’t seen them moved before or out of that (enclosure) at all,” Johnson said.

The new setup has created a kind of musical chairs for the park’s other cats. Four bobcats moved into the old cougar habitat, which is larger and offers more opportunity to climb than their old one. The lynxes kept their enclosure but moved a couple of hundred feet away to make room for the cougars’ building project.

Although the new habitat is filled with things for the cougars to climb and jump on, they likely won’t be doing a lot of that. In their teens, both cats are considered old. In the future, any young cougars who come to live at the park will likely use the rocks and logs to play.

These cats seem to enjoy the extra space, anyway. Every 12 hours, one cougar goes outside while the other one stays in, a necessary step to keep them separated. On Thursday, as groups of schoolchildren clamored to get the best view, the female cat sauntered outside, roaming through the yard and cave. At one point, she climbed onto a giant log and used it as a scratching post. 

“It’s much more enriching to their lifestyle than what they had before,” Johnson said.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: