Cougars’ birthday benefits Cougar Mountain Zoo, The Beat

May 1, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Cougar Mountain Zoo’s cougar cubs Miksa, Keira and Tika grew from tiny tufts of fur in May 2011 into regal big cats and a centerpiece at the zoo. Contributed

Beloved cougar cubs Keira, Miksa and Tika turn 1 on May 20 and to celebrate the milestone, Cougar Mountain Zoo is — please, pardon the pun — planning a wild party.

The party doubles as a fundraiser for the zoo, a nonprofit organization, and The Beat, The Issaquah Press’ section by, for and about teenagers. Zoogoers can watch as the curious cubs tear open gifts and dig into special birthday cakes made from meat.

“Cougar cubs love to destroy things, so we are creating special birthday boxes for them to do just that!” zoo General Curator Robyn Barfoot said.

In the months since the cubs arrived at the zoo, Keira, Miksa and Tika grew from tiny tufts of spotted fur into regal big cats.

In addition to supporting the popular cougar exhibit at the zoo, a percentage of all ticket sales benefits The Beat, to help pay for the section’s pages in The Press.

“We’re excited about this event,” said Kathleen R. Merrill, managing editor of The Issaquah Press and The Beat. “The staff and I were talking about it on Sunday and they are looking forward to meeting everyone who comes to the zoo.”

The Beat debuted in December 2009. The monthly section is by teens, for teens and about teens. Team members come from Issaquah, Liberty, Skyline and Eastside Catholic high schools.

“We’re always looking for ways to raise money, so not only will this help us keep our project going, but it will be a fun and educational event for everyone,” Merrill said.

Zoogoers can meet The Beat’s staff at the cougar cubs’ birthday bash. Members plan to greet attendees, do some face-painting and birthday card making, and serve birthday cake to attendees. Zoogoers can also earn zoo-centric prizes in raffles.

In June 2011, months after iconic cougar Nashi died, keepers unveiled Keira, Miksa and Tika. The cubs joined the public displays at the zoo a month later.

Barfoot and Senior Keeper Sasha Puskar picked up the then-2-pound cubs at a Wisconsin zoo.

The cubs succeeded Nashi, a longtime denizen at the nonprofit zoo. Nashi died in February 2011 at age 17 — old for a cougar in captivity. Keepers started the search for cougar cubs soon after.

If you go

Cougar Cubs First Birthday Celebration

Cougar Mountain Zoo is hosting a birthday party for 1-year-old cougar cubs Keira, Miksa and Tika to benefit the zoo’s cougar exhibit and The Beat, The Issaquah Press’ monthly section by, for and about teens.

  • 2:30-5 p.m. May 20
  • Cougar Mountain Zoo
  • 19525 S.E. 54th St.

(The party is in the upper zoo; the rest of the zoo is closed for the event.)

Tickets cost $10 in advance and $12 at the gate. The event is free for children younger than 2.

Purchase advance tickets at The Press, 45 Front St. S., Monday through Friday during regular business hours. and cougarmountainzoo

Merlin, another cougar at the zoo, died in 2008 at age 16. Merlin, perched in a boulder-strewn enclosure just inside the zoo gates, acted as the zoo’s ambassadors for years. The much-photographed cougar awed camera-toting guests and appeared on zoo promotional materials.

The zoo, established in 1972, is also celebrating 40 years in 2012. The latest milestone caps a big year for the cubs.

In August 2011, Tika underwent successful surgery to correct a congenital defect. The problem, a vascular ring anomaly or defect, prevented the cub from eating solid foods. Tika experienced a complete recovery after surgery at a Kirkland clinic.

The zoo lacked a namesake big cat in the months after Nashi’s death. The cubs’ arrival carried special significance, because the cougar is a native species, hence the names of the mountain and the zoo.

The big cat collection at the hillside zoo includes rare Bengal tigers — Taj, Almos, Bagheera and Vitez. Conservationists estimate fewer than 3,000 Bengal tigers remain in the wild.

Other species at the facility include alpaca, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, parrots and reindeer. The zoo is also in the midst of a fundraising campaign to add a cheetah exhibit.

In addition to the cougars and rare tigers, a conservation message is carried throughout zoo exhibits. The facility maintains the alpaca herd to teach zoogoers about the vicuña, a similar species at risk from habitat loss and poaching.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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