The cougar on loan to the Great Bend-Brit Spaugh Zoo will soon be moved to an area for public viewing, Zoo Director Scott Gregory said.
Phoenix, an 11-year-old cougar that was rescued from the exotic pet trade when he was about 2 weeks old, now belongs to Texas-based Panthera Research. The animal is on loan to the local zoo for about a year, while Panthera Research works on developing an exotic animal refuge that will become its permanent home.
Great Bend was recommended as the temporary home for the cougar by the State of Kansas Wildlife Division and by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and arrived here last summer. Any new animal at the zoo has some scheduled "down time" away from public eyes, Gregory said. Zoological Society members did get an early viewing, but Phoenix has been housed in an area not generally open to zoo visitors.
Panther Research employees will return to assist with Phoenix’s move from quarantine to a display next to the black bear exhibit, probably during the week of Dec. 12, Gregory said. The zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, and the move will be done during off hours.
The cougar’s owners note Phoenix is no ordinary animal. According to information forwarded to Gregory last August, "He is a remarkable cat and very possibly the most intelligent animal we have ever worked with and has over 93 learned behaviors trained in a modified Karen Pryor-Jean Piaget positive reinforcement style." When the people Phoenix has known for years come to visit, Gregory said the cat appears happy to see them, and even vocalized a greeting that sounded a lot like, "hello."