July 7, 2009
-Written by Megan Sanders, Animal Behavior Programs Manager
Last week, our beloved mountain lion, Dakota, left our Zoo family. She lived to be just shy of 20 years old, and boy did she live!
She has always been a cat that did everything with gusto. I have never met an animal that could turn a refrigerator box in to confetti as fast as she could. She had a “soft side” too. Some of my favorite memories here are working the late shifts and sitting with her a few minutes in the evening having a “chat”. She never failed to come over, blow a little puff of smelly cat breath in your face and then roll in the mulch, always stopping to give you that look of hers while she was upside down.
Dakota has absolutely left her mark on this zoo and on anyone who came into contact with her. A guest recently commented that “she was the prettiest Mountain Lion” they had ever seen. She showed a generation of kids just how it looked and felt to see a cat stalk you, and passed that talent on to the 4 cougars who now stalk in the Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit. She initiated more keeper talks and conversation through her playing and her training, I can only imagine the far reaching impact she may have had.
Most guests know her by name and those that don’t know her by reputation. I can’t even count the number of times I have been asked for directions to the “grandma cat”, “the old lady” or the “log cat”… Dakota and her log…it’s a beautiful thing. That was her throne from which she surveyed the comings and goings of peafowl, guinea fowl, wallabies and the occasional raccoon. I was happy to find her in her favorite log this morning and have one last “chat” while we watched the wallabies shift out for the day.
Dakota taught me so much and defined my career in many ways. I am the trainer that I am today because of her. She was a patient and willing pupil and because of that she allowed me to grow along with her. I was proud and humbled to share one last session with her this morning.
My love and respect goes out to everyone who has worked with, taken care of, stopped to talk to and “fairy god-mothered” Dakota throughout her life. I know we did right by her up to the very end and I think, in some way, she knew that. She was an amazing animal and I know that she is up there, healthy and robust, rolling in fields of cat mint, eating steak and having a good fly when the mood strikes!
I’ll miss you Dakota. Thank you for all you gave me. Be at peace old girl.