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The Oakland Zoo rescued two orphaned mountain lion cubs

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Holly and Hazel, welcome to the Bay Area. Two mountain lion cubs have been rescued and are now in residence at the Oakland Zoo, where they have been named Holly and Hazel. This, after the most famous mountain lion in Los Angeles, known as P-22, died in December after being struck by a car. Dr. Alex Herman is vice president of veterinary services at the Oakland Zoo.

Dr. Herman, thanks for being with us.

ALEX HERMAN: My pleasure.

SIMON: Tell us how Holly and Hazel arrived at your zoo, a few weeks apart, I gather.

HERMAN: So they came in separately but, really, for the same reasons - young, no mother to care for them, starving and weak. They both were very thin. But Hazel was also severely anemic. Hazel was much more ill than Holly was and did require a blood transfusion to save her life a couple days after she arrived. Both of them needed ICU care for several days.

SIMON: How are they doing now?

HERMAN: They're doing great. So once they're stable, we actually have a large ward here at the hospital where we have enclosures that have indoor and outdoor access that, as they get stronger, we can really enrich for them. So they started out with a little straw cave to hide in and some straw to play in, and then now they have climbing structures and benches to move around on so they can regain their muscular strength and agility.

SIMON: You have a camera on them to track their progress. And I've spent probably more time than I should watching Holly and Hazel. They're awful cute to watch them play. What do you hope people will learn from watching Holly and Hazel?

HERMAN: I think compassion for these beautiful apex predators in our California ecosystem that are such an important part of biodiversity here; I think just seeing them as individuals, but also as part of a group of animals that we really need to pay attention to in our state right now. Florida only has 200 of their panthers left. They're a subspecies of the American mountain lion. And we're really at an inflection point, where we can do a lot to save the species and coexist with them and really appreciate them for who they are. And I think the footage and the individual attention on these individuals can really help people see what these animals are.

SIMON: What comes next for these lion cubs now that they're recovering and doing so well?

HERMAN: So first, we save their life. Then we do really behavioral and physical rehabilitation in the larger ward that we have here at the hospital. After that, what we'll be doing on Feb. 25, barring any setbacks, is the two gals will move up to California Trail, where we have holding that's adjacent to our adult mountain lion habitat. And that way they can smell adult mountain lions. They can see them. They can interact with them so they can start building more natural behaviors. Once they're doing well up there, they do have a forever home that's been chosen for them at Big Bear Alpine Zoo. So they'll move down there and live together there.

SIMON: They'll never go back into the wild? That's just not realistic?

HERMAN: Unfortunately for these young guys - they're too sick and too young for us to release them. Our dream would be to rewild most of these cubs. And that would be save their life and then support them in a way where they can be released back into the wild when they normally would separate from their mom, which is about 2 years old. We don't have that in place yet. But it's our dream, and we're definitely looking at other places that have successfully rewild mountain lions, like the Florida panther people have done.

SIMON: Dr. Alex Sherman from the Oakland Zoo. Thanks so much for joining us.

HERMAN: You're very welcome. My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF PINK FLOYD SONG, "BREATHE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.