A trio of orphaned cougar cubs that lost their mother in the wild are getting a second chance at the Oregon Zoo.
The tiny cougars were brought to the zoo in Portland on Friday.
Their mother was killed by a hunter in the Lookout Mountain area in eastern Oregon.
Michelle Schireman, a zookeeper in the Oregon Zoo's North America section, said the hunter is a former Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employee who didn't realize he had shot a female cougar that had cubs.
Once he realized his mistake, he tracked the cougar's paw prints in the snow back to the den and found a trio of newborns.
The hunter reported the situation to ODFW and wildlife workers then cared for the young cougars, saying they are possibly just 2 weeks old, before transferring them to the Oregon Zoo.
"A lot of hunters wouldn't have taken the time," Schireman said.
Schireman said the little cougars have learned to eat from a bottle and have adjusted to the formula.
"They're progressing, but they're not out of the woods yet," she said.
They still need to become more stable physically before they can be taken to their final destination, a new home at the North Carolina Zoo.
Schireman, who is also a species coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said the workers at the North Carolina Zoo contacted her because they had recently lost an aging cougar, with a second one not faring so well, either.
That zoo said they had enough room for three cougars, meaning the baby siblings from Oregon will not be separated.
"Whenever possible, I like to keep brothers and sisters together," Schireman said.
Schireman has found homes for more than 100 cougar cubs in zoos around the country. She said without a mother, young cougars lack the skills and resources they need to survive on their own in the wild.
Right now, there's no timeline for when the Oregon cougar cubs might be able to make their next journey across the country. They are currently being kept in the zoo's veterinary hospital.
The Baker City Herald reported the hunter was given a warning, but not a citation for killing the mother cougar. Authorities deemed it an inadvertent mistake that would have been very difficult to avoid. The cubs were so young, they had never left their den, meaning there was no miniature paw prints in the snow.