Two orphaned cougar cubs recently arrived at the Houston Zoo, where they are being groomed to be the next set of ambassadors for the city's largest public university.
Shasta VII and Louie, a pair of 8-week-old male cubs presumed to be brothers, both were discovered alone about four weeks ago by a rancher in Washington state, according to Houston Zoo spokesperson Jackie Wallace. The cubs were transported about two weeks later to the Houston Zoo, which had put out a call that it had the room and expertise to care for cougars.
The cubs were 10 pounds at the time and have since gained another 5 pounds, according to Wallace, who said they could grow to be 100 pounds or more.
"They came to us pretty small," Wallace said. "We're enjoying watching them get bigger and get used to their caregivers."
Shasta VII has been designated as the next live mascot for the University of Houston, where the nickname of its athletic teams is the Cougars, while Louie also will be an ambassador for the university. The cubs will succeed Shasta VI and Haley in those roles, respectively, after those cougars were euthanized earlier this year because of declining health at an advanced age, according to the zoo.
Our Shasta has arrived in Houston Zoo... orphaned cub rescued and brought from Washington State to Houston to serve as our mascot... all the adorability but strength and toughness that comes with being a Houston Cougar! pic.twitter.com/hzfYfFmseI
— Renu Khator (@UHpres) November 17, 2022
Wallace said the University of Houston Alumni Association provides funding to help care for the cougars through an ongoing partnership with the zoo, which will house the two new arrivals throughout the remainder of their lives. The zoo has been without cougars since the deaths of Shasta VI and Haley.
"Our Shasta has arrived in Houston Zoo ... orphaned cub rescued and brought from Washington State to Houston to serve as our mascot ... all the adorability but strength and toughness that comes with being a Houston Cougar!" university president Renu Khator wrote Thursday on Twitter.
Shasta VII earned that name because he has demonstrated himself as "clearly the leader" of the two cubs, according to Wallace, who said he is calmer and more confident and often rests with a paw draped around Louie.
"He's the first to speak up," Wallace said of Shasta VII. "He has more leadership qualities, so they thought he would make a good Shasta."
The zoo said in a news release that when the cubs were found at about 4 weeks old in late October, it was unlikely they would have survived on their own. They were skinny and also dirty when they arrived in Houston, indicating they were "probably alone for a little while" without their mother, Wallace said.
The cubs will remain out of the public eye at the zoo for the time being while they acclimate to their new home and caregivers. Wallace said they are being monitored by a team of veterinarians and other animal care professionals.
Eventually, Shasta VII and Louie will be exhibited along with other animals at the zoo. In the meantime, the zoo said it would post updates on their progress on social media.
"We're going to follow the animals' lead," Wallace said. "They'll let us know when they're big and healthy enough to be out on exhibit. We'll be sure to let everyone know when they can come out and meet the duo."