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Grandfather Mountain Cougar Nikita Passes Away

Aspen (foreground) and Nikita (background) relax in the cougar habitat at Grandfather Mountain. Nikita, 16, died Wednesday after a brief illness. Helen Moss Davis | Grandfather Mountain.

Oct. 30, 2014. Grandfather Mountain is grieving the loss this week of one of its most popular and cherished habitat residents, a cougar named Nikita.

Following a brief bout of illness, Nikita was humanely euthanized Wednesday night after veterinarians discovered a mass in her abdomen. The mass, likely attached to several organs, was interfering with her liver and kidney function and putting strain on the 16-year-old cougar’s heart, said Habitats Curator Christie Tipton.

The only possible treatment would include feeding tubes, anti-nausea medication and antibiotics, Tipton said. Because of Nikita’s advanced age, habitat staff did not feel it was in her best interest to pursue the aggressive treatment.

Habitat staff had been monitoring Nikita closely for several months as she was losing weight and not eating as heartily as usual. Blood tests last month showed issues with her kidneys, but she remained active until this week, whens he began ignoring food and refusing to enter the indoor enclosure at night.

The loss of the very social cat is difficult for the keepers who interacted with her daily.

“She was the biggest sweetheart ever,” Tipton said. “She would talk back to you constantly, and she just loved to be around people.”

Nikita was born July 25, 1998 and arrived at Grandfather Mountain in February 2003 after being removed from an exotic animal collection in Florida. Her relocation to Grandfather Mountain was filled with mishaps and surprises, habitat keepers remember.

In her first home, Nikita lived in a 20 by 30 foot cage with a concrete slab floor.

When she arrived at Grandfather Mountain, she did not like the grass, dirt or snow she encountered and tried to fling everything off of her paws as she explored the new world.

Nikita eventually grew to enjoy the freedom of her larger habitat and the company of Aspen, 11, a male cougar who also lives at Grandfather Mountain. The two were often spotted playing, cuddling and wrestling.

She also was admired by the roughly 250,000 guests who witnessed her beauty each year at Grandfather Mountain, most of whom would not be able to see a cougar otherwise. Cougars, classified as extinct in North Carolina, have an average life expectancy of 12 years, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

“She was always a favorite of the Behind-the-Scenes tours because she would always come down to visit with people,” Tipton said. “She will truly be missed.”

The not-for-profit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call (800) 468-7325 or visit www.grandfather.com to plan a trip.