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Squamish's beloved Andre the cougar dies

Thanks to volunteers' rescue efforts in 2009, the orphaned cub lived a long, happy life.

Following his rescue in Squamish about 13 years ago, Andre the cougar has died, after living a long, happy life in The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota.

While he did grow into a strong, healthy cat thanks to the help of local volunteers, back in July 2009, he was a young kitten who was looking for help.

His mother had died, and he was wandering the Mamquam River Forest Service Road, crying out for someone to take care of him.

Earlier in the day, people had spotted the young wildcat, passed him around and taken pictures with the animal — everything you're not supposed to do.

Once conservation officers got wind of this, they reached out to two locals, Randi Olson and Val Kerns, who happened to be in the area putting signage up for the Bear Aware program.

The pair searched for the cub, and, in the fading evening light, they found him crying for help while wandering the FSR.

"We turn the corner and all of a sudden, this kitten is coming down the middle of the road meowing, and we literally were shaking our heads going, 'Is this for real?'" recalled Olson.

"And he [walked within] about a couple of feet away from us. And he all of a sudden was like, 'Hey, you're not something I know.' And he kind of circled us making little grumbly sounds. And then he walked off into the bush."

Immediately, they called the local conservation officer and asked what to do.

"This is something they normally would never, ever probably do, but I think because of my years helping out or whatever, he just said, 'Are you comfortable getting the kitten?'" said Olson. "I said, 'We'll give it a try.'"

They later found the cub in a lush patch of forest.

"My friend [Val] is more of a cat person. So she grabbed him by the neck and he just went limp," she said.

Val Kerns recalled that the conservation officer told them to transport the animal to his house.

"So we picked [Andre] up, drove through the lights on the highway and stuff like that," said Kerns. "And I just thought, 'This is so weird.' Like, we came looking for a cougar, we found the cougar. And on top of that, I'm driving around with the cougar in my car."

She said that Andre was lucky.

"He was very fortunate to get rescued, because then he continued on to have a long and healthy life to be well taken care of. He passed on, but he had a good life," Kerns said.

Lucky cat

After his rescue from the FSR, Andre was then brought to the Critter Care Wildlife Society in Langley, and he stayed there until he could find a permanent home.

Olson visited the little cougar, and he was gentle enough that he'd even suckle on her finger.

She said that Andre was named after Squamish's conservation officer at the time, who was adamant that the cub be put in a sanctuary, and not a zoo.

Sanctuaries don't buy, breed or sell animals and are not open to the public. They are generally funded by donations.

Eventually, he found a permanent place at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota.

Tammy Thies, the founder of the society, said the area is closed to the public and provides big cats with a place to live. These are generally animals that wouldn't be able to survive in the wild due to human habituation or other factors.

In Andre's case, he was found to have a metabolic bone disease, and, as a result, he was not able to be released into his natural habitat.

As a result, he spent the rest of his days at the sanctuary, where he led a happy life.

Thies said he was a particularly social cat with a trademark look.

"He was always the first at the fence, he was always up to say, 'Hello,'" said Thies. "He had actually broken his canine in his young age. So he had a signature Elvis little lip that was always raised, so people could easily tell it was him."

In his first year in Minnesota, he was introduced to four other cougars at the sanctuary, and they quickly became a tight-knit group.

"They kind of developed their own family here at the sanctuary, which we call the 'Five Wild,'" said Thies. "And Andre was kind of the leader of the pack; he was the most socialized to his caretakers, [and he was] the bridge to the other four who are a little more skittish with people than Andre was."

Andre had dark shadows under his eyes, which gave him a "grumpy cat" kind of look, but he was inseparable from his peers.

"You could find them all snuggled up, they slept together, they napped together, and it was always what we call this big huddle puddle of cougars just on top of each other," she said.

Sadly, The Wildcat Sanctuary announced on June 16 that Andre died as a result of sepsis. He had a perforation in his lower stomach.

It's unclear how it happened, but Thies said Andre had a bad habit of eating things like sticks, which may have caused the damage.

In the wild, cougars live around 10 years, wildlife experts say.

"It was unexpected on our end. And luckily, it was sudden for him so that he didn't have to suffer. But, you know, definitely not a goodbye we expected at all," she said.

"We're so thankful that he was rescued."

However, she added that animals shouldn't be taken out of their habitat unless absolutely necessary. While Andre's rescue was a definite must, most people tend to act too quickly and separate animals from their habitats too soon.

"I think they did the right job intervening here, but many times people try to make them pets [when they] shouldn't. That was not the case here."

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