Rogue the reindeer is ready to take the reins

December 20, 2011

Rogue, Cougar Mountain Zoo’s 5-month-old reindeer, looks through a window checking out visitors to Santa’s house during the Reindeer Festival this month. By Greg Farrar

He may be only 5 months old, but he already weighs 84 pounds and is about three and half feet tall at his shoulders.

Especially as this is the holiday time of year, he has made numerous personal appearances at Christmas tree lightings and similar events, said Robyn Barfoot, general curator of the Cougar Mountain Zoological Park.

The toddler in question, however, probably is not going to be caught sitting on Santa’s lap.

Instead, Rogue the reindeer already is harness trained and ready to help pull Santa’s sleigh, Barfoot said.

“Santa likes to refer to him as ‘Blitzen,’” Barfoot added.

Rogue even already has his own Christmas song. The private Cougar Mountain Academy is near the zoo. Teachers and children there have come up with a version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” using Rogue’s name, Barfoot said.

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Cougar Mountain Zoo hosts 23rd annual Issaquah Reindeer Festival

November 29, 2011

One of Santa’s sled-propulsion units walks about for exercise before Christmas Eve last year in the front yard of Santa’s House at Cougar Mountain Zoo. By Greg Farrar

First held in 1988, the annual Issaquah Reindeer Festival runs Dec. 1-23 at the Cougar Mountain Zoo.

Zoo General Curator Robyn Barfoot said the event regularly attracts up to 10,000 visitors. Some travel relatively long distances to make it to the festival, even coming from well east of the Cascades.

“It’s a family tradition for many people,” Barfoot said.

Although the zoo is technically closed for the season, 10 of Santa’s reindeer team will be ready and awaiting visitors daily.

At the Magic Forest, visitors can hand feed the South American reindeer. And among numerous other activities, kids and parents also can visit Santa in his house and get a picture with the jolly old elf.

Visitors can also listen to stories read by an elf, see Santa’s sleigh, shop and pick up hot drinks and snacks. The younger set also can write a letter to Santa and then place it in his personal mailbox.

The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Santa will take a lunch break roughly from 1-1:30 p.m. daily. Pictures with Santa are $15 for the first shot and $10 for additional shots. You can take your own pictures for a fee.

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Issaquah businesses target tourists for attractions, events

October 25, 2011

Issaquah leaders often describe local qualities as treasures — a quaint downtown, mountain panoramas, historic buildings and more.

Local businesspeople describe such attractions as “tourism assets” all set for out-of-town guests to enjoy and, in the process, spend dollars in hotels and restaurants.

Issaquah Chamber of Commerce officials gathered representatives from local “tourism assets” Oct. 18 to discuss successes and opportunities to lure more tourists to the area.

Leaders from artEAST, Cougar Mountain Zoo, Village Theatre, and other Issaquah attractions and events, said attendance is strong, but sometimes people overlook local offerings.

“Tastin’ N Racin’ — unfortunately — is Issaquah’s best-kept secret,” event organizer Craig Cooke said. “Nationally, it’s not. There are events in 13 other states that have all called and patterned their event on what goes on on land and what goes on in water.”

Tastin’ N Racin’ attracts 20,000 people — and sometimes up to 50,000 — to Lake Sammamish State Park each June for hydroplane races and onshore offerings.

Other long-established attractions face a similar challenge in luring potential tourists.

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Cougar cub is recovering after surgery to correct birth defect

August 23, 2011

Veterinary nurses Tina Branham (left) and Katie Mazuti with Tasha in the center, move about the operating room prior to the cougar’s surgery. Contributed

After undergoing surgery at a clinic in Kirkland, Issaquah’s Tasha, a 3-month-old baby cougar, is back home at the Cougar Mountain Zoo and, according to zoo General Curator Robyn Barfoot, is doing very well.

Tasha underwent surgery Aug. 17 to repair a congenital defect that was preventing her from eating solid foods.

“She’s running around and purring,” Barfoot said just two days after the surgery. “Actually, she’s purring an awful lot … She doesn’t seem fazed by any of this at all.”

Veterinarian Michael Mison led Tasha’s surgery at Seattle Veterinary Specialists.

“There were no complications during surgery,” Mison said. “I’m happy to report that Tasha is recovering nicely. We expect her to have a long and healthy life.”

SVS veterinarians diagnosed Tasha with what’s termed a vascular ring anomaly or defect on Aug. 10. Barfoot said keepers had noticed Tasha wasn’t keeping down much food, but at first attributed her vomiting to rough play. Normally, Tasha lives with two other cougar cubs. When Tasha’s problem persisted, Barfoot said zoo officials took her for tests at SVS where vets diagnosed the vascular defect.

According to information released by the clinic, vascular ring anomalies form before an animal is born when embryonic blood vessels develop abnormally.

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Cougar Mountain Zoo unveils cougar cubs

June 28, 2011

Months after Cougar Mountain Zoo’s iconic cougar Nashi died, keepers unveiled a trio of month-old cougar cubs June 23.

Cougar Mountain Zoo plans to unveil cougar cubs to the public July 16. Contributed

The cubs — one male and two females born May 20 — should go on display July 16. In the meantime, zoogoers might see the cubs during unscheduled public appearances after July 1.

“The cubs are absolutely adorable! They are extremely playful and curious about everything,” zoo General Curator Robyn Barfoot said in a news release. “I can’t wait to bring them home and introduce them to our zoo visitors.”

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

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

The zoo lacked a namesake big cat in the months since Nashi’s death.

“We are still recovering from losing Nashi this past February. He was an incredible and iconic cougar,” Barfoot said. “With the addition of these new cubs, our hearts are happy again. The cubs have a lot to live up to, but so far, they are doing a fantastic job. They are healthy, happy cubs and I think our visitors will give them a wonderful welcome.”

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Remember Issaquah zoo’s beloved cougar Saturday

March 25, 2011

NEW — 10 a.m. March 25, 2011

Join other zoogoers to remember the cougar Nashi, the beloved and iconic Cougar Mountain Zoo denizen, at a Saturday celebration.

Nashi died at age 17 late last month. The celebration starts at 2 p.m. at the zoo, 19525 S.E. 54th St. The zoo plans to open the stage for zoogoers and zookeepers to talk about Nashi.

The orphaned cougar cub arrived at the nonprofit zoo from Minnesota woods more 17 years ago.

The other cougar at the zoo, Merlin, died in 2008, and General Curator Robyn Barfoot is raising money to refurbish the cougar habitat and acquire cubs for the exhibit.

The zoo is seeking donations to cover the expected $10,000 cost. Zoogoers can donate at the zoo website.

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Last cougar dies at Issaquah zoo

March 15, 2011

Nashi, a cougar at Cougar Mountain Zoo, died from old age Feb. 24. Contributed

The community is invited to Cougar Mountain Zoo to honor the life of Nashi, a cougar transplanted from the woods of Minnesota to the zoo more than 17 years ago.

Nashi died from old age Feb 24. Though he had been showing signs of slowing down for the past several months, the loss was still devastating to staff, volunteers and zoo visitors, Cougar Mountain Zoo General Curator Robyn Barfoot said.

“He was a fantastic cougar. He had a lot of spunk in him,” she said. “He enjoyed talking with the visitors every day.”

The Nashi Memorial Celebration will be at March 26 at the zoo. Instead of holding its traditional cougar lecture, the zoo will open the stage for people to talk about Nashi. Staff members who raised and worked with him will talk about his life.

“I used to joke around that he’s a rock star, because he is,” Barfoot said.

At the zoo, Nashi would model for product labels, television shows and nature documentaries.

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Cougar dies at Cougar Mountain Zoo; curator plans memorial

March 14, 2011

Nashi, a cougar at Cougar Mountain Zoo, died from old age Feb. 24 at age 17. Contributed

NEW — 2:15 p.m. March 14, 2011

The community is invited to Cougar Mountain Zoo to honor the life of Nashi, a cougar transplanted from the woods of Minnesota to the zoo more than 17 years ago.

Nashi died from old age Feb 24. Though he had been showing signs of slowing down for the past several months, the loss was still devastating to staff, volunteers and zoo visitors, Cougar Mountain Zoo General Curator Robyn Barfoot said.

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Cougar Mountain Zoo offers talk about tigers

February 15, 2011

A Bengal tiger is captured on film in Kanha National Tiger Preserve, India. By Robyn Barfoot

On Feb. 27, Cougar Mountain Zoo will host a lecture on the dilemma of the Bengal tiger.

General Curator and Zoo Manager Robyn Barfoot will be the speaker.

“The lecture was the suggestion of one of our zoo members who wanted to know about my trip to India and the conservation work I had done,” Barfoot said. “She suggested making it a public meeting and I ran with it.”

According to Barfoot, the Bengal tiger has seen a 97 percent drop in its population in the past 100 years. In search of answers, she recently made a visit to India and met with directors from different tiger parks as well as the director of the World Wildlife Fund.

The lecture will go more in-depth on the subject of the tiger and discuss ways people can help.

“I will have a slideshow of photos from my trip and will touch on ecotourism in India and what that means for the Bengal Tiger,” Barfoot said. “There will be a Q-and-A section and information on what ‘we’ can do to help the wild tiger. It’s going to be a relaxed environment, encouraging interaction and open discussions about the plight of the tiger.”

Cougar Mountain Zoo is home to four Bengal tigers. Senior Keeper Sasha Puskar has been at the zoo since June 2005 and has worked closely with the tigers since their arrival.

“I work daily with our now four Bengal tigers with general husbandry, feeding, medicating (if needed) and training,” Puskar said. “From the tools obtained by the zoo and Robyn, I do my best to provide anyone I encounter a vast amount of information about this vanishing species.”

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Find reindeer games aplenty at Cougar Mountain Zoo

November 30, 2010

Santa Claus feeds apple slices to Olive the reindeer last year at the barn attached to Santa’s House during the annual Issaquah Reindeer Festival. By Greg Farrar

Issaquah Reindeer Festival raises money for exhibits

Not many people can name all nine of Santa’s reindeer, but Cougar Mountain Zoo General Curator Robyn Barfoot can name 10.

That’s right. There’s Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen — not to mention Rudolph — and, Olive, as in “All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names; they never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.”

“Zookeepers have a very strange sense of humor,” Barfoot said.

There weren’t always 10 reindeer at Issaquah’s Cougar Mountain Zoo. The first group of reindeer, six in all, came directly from Siberia 23 years ago. Though at the zoo — and in Issaquah, no less — the reindeer not only help Santa every Christmas season but also bring in much-needed dollars for the zoo, which has a slow season during the cold, rainy months. Read more

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