The Buttonwood Park Zoo is sad to announce that Nikki, a fourteen-year-old female cougar, passed away on February 22nd, 2024, after a period of rapid decline due to end-stage chronic kidney disease.

Orphaned in the wild in Oregon in 2010, Nikki found a forever home at BPZOO alongside Riley, the male cougar she shared a habitat with. Described by team members as willful and stubborn, with a strong sense of what she did and did not want, Nikki held a special place in the hearts of her Zookeepers.

“You knew when she trusted you,” said Katie Harding, a member of the BPZOO’s animal care staff who spent thirteen years working with Nikki. “It wasn’t easy, but when you got there, you knew you were lucky to be part of her circle.”

Being part of that circle meant getting a peek inside her fun, and sometimes quirky, personality through training exercises and enrichment items – finding something that truly amused her could feel like a huge win.

Steph Durette-Medeiros smiled as she remembered watching Nikki explore various enrichment she provided.

“She had a love/hate relationship with large plastic items.  She would go crazy for the blue plastic barrel that was in her habitat with her. She also loved the mirror that was in there, as well as the buoys we used for target training – it brought us a lot of joy to see those natural behaviors come out because of things we made for her.”

It was also special to see the deep bond between Nikki and Riley – BPZOO’s male cougar – who spent their time together either snuggling or playing. At the advanced age of fourteen, Riley also shows signs of kidney disease, but is continuing to participate in treatments.

BPZOO veterinarian and animal care team noticed a change in Nikki over the past few weeks. Her appetite began to decrease, and she was noticeably lethargic. Once she began refusing food, medication was no longer an option. The decision was made to humanely euthanize Nikki, surrounded by those she carefully selected to be in her inner circle.

“These decisions are always difficult,” said Gary Lunsford, Director of Zoological Services.  “The team does everything possible to provide the best lives for our animal residents, and it isn’t easy to let them go.  Animals in professional care at accredited zoos often live well beyond their normal life expectancy with ongoing veterinary care.  It is a challenging week for the team as we are engaged in similar discussions regarding our cow, Daisy, as she succumbs to a chronic uterine tumor.”

“I am truly honored to have gotten to work so closely with Nikki,” said Dr. Emmy Budas, BPZOO’s Veterinarian. “We have been doing daily training sessions with her for the past few months to improve her treatment plan. Nikki is normally very picky about the people she chooses to trust, and I am very grateful to have been considered one of those people.”

Dr. Emmy and her team will continue to monitor Riley’s health closely over the next few weeks and months. BPZOO continues to be a sanctuary for non-releasable, rehabilitated wildlife and is prepared to answer the call if the opportunity to provide a home for a young cougar arises.

Nikki will be deeply missed by everyone at BPZOO.