LINVILLE, N.C. — Grandfather Mountain staff are mourning the loss of their western cougar Aspen, according to a news release.
According to habitat staff, Aspen grew increasingly unresponsive following a weekend tooth-removal surgery, which was also intended to diagnose some other ailments. After his keepers kept him under 24-hour observation, his condition only worsened and he was humanely euthanized on March 25.
Aspen was 15 years old, two years older than the average lifespan of a western cougar in the wild.
“Aspen was such a great ambassador of his species and for Grandfather Mountain,” said Jesse Pope, president and executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Linville nature park. “Everyone that met him was in awe of his gentle nature and his interest in meeting those who visited with him.”
Born June 22, 2003, at Rocky Mountain Wildlife Park in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, Aspen and his siblings astonished their keepers, who thought the cubs’ mother was too old to bear kittens.
As a result, the cubs all had to be hand-raised by staff. Grandfather Mountain had recently lost an elderly cougar due to age-related complications, when habitat staff received a call from the Rocky Mountain Wildlife keepers, saying they had some cubs in need of a home.
Aspen came to Grandfather Mountain on Oct. 3, 2003.
“Upon first sight, Aspen immediately began stealing the hearts of everyone he came in contact with, which he continued to do every day for the rest of his life,” said Christie Tipton, Grandfather Mountain’s chief habitats curator.
Since Aspen was so small upon his arrival in the Western North Carolina High Country, he could not safely reside with his adult cougar counterparts in the main habitat.
Aspen soon grew from a mischievous young cub to an even more mischievous young cougar, Tipton said, at which time he was moved to the cougar habitat, “much to the relief of the office kitties.”
Once Aspen was introduced to his new feline family, Sheaba and Nikita, the keepers took a figurative step back and ceased close physical interaction for both theirs and the cats’ safety — a practice done with most animals brought to the mountain at a young age, the release said.
Aspen is survived by Logan and Trinity, a sibling pair of Western cougars found orphaned as cubs in Idaho, which Grandfather Mountain rescued in 2016 with the support of Bob and Susan Wilson.