The California Living Museum suffered a devastating loss Friday when its beloved 3-year-old mountain lion, Willow, died suddenly.
Willow had suffered a mysterious puncture wound no more than 48 hours before her death. It was tiny, only two to three millimeters, on her side near her front left leg, said CALM spokeswoman Lana Fain.
No one even noticed it until she began having difficulty breathing early Friday and died.
CALM's veterinarian, Dr. Thomas Willis discovered the puncture wound after her death. Though it was small, the puncture caused bleeding into the chest, subsequent breathing problems and death, Willis reported.
In a press release, Don Richardson, CALM Curator of Animals, said staff had examined her enclosure and found nothing that could have caused such a wound.
"Perhaps she fell on something while she was playing with Sage (CALM's other mountain lion) or she fell on something when she was jumping down from the rocks where she likes to sleep," Richardson said in the release. "With a wound that small we may never know what caused it.
"Needless to say we are devastated."
Willow came to CALM in 2010 at only five or six weeks old after being discovered on the side of Interstate 5 near Mt. Shasta with two siblings. She was the only kitten of the three to survive.
"She had pneumonia and we almost lost her then," recalled CALM's Fain.
Willow was very cuddly right from the start and spent part of her youth in the office, even going home with staff, Fain said.
"She loved to be petted through the fence and would purr. Or we would make squeaky noises and she would respond."
Sage, who came to the zoo from a sanctuary in Florida, has a much different personality and isn't interested in cuddling, Fain said.
But she misses her cohort.
"We'll find a new lion soon, it's best for Sage," Fain said.
When one of CALM's brown bears, Dart, died, she said the other bear, Cinnamon became depressed and began exhibiting in negative behaviors, such as pacing and circling non stop.
Though the zoo lost an iconic animal last week, the CALM press release noted it also celebrated a new life with the birth of its first desert bighorn sheep born as part of a cooperative breeding program with the San Diego and Los Angeles zoos.