The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Wonderfully Wild. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Wonderfully Wild.

Happy 18th Birthday Salem!

April 14, 2022

By RoxAnna Breitigan, Director of Animal Care

The Living Desert’s beloved mountain lion resident, celebrates a milestone birthday today – she turns 18! Salem’s story is a special one and as one of The Living Desert’s longest residents, Salem has quite a fan-club. She was brought to us from US Fish and Wildlife as an orphaned cub in 2004 and has made an impact on the lives of so many every day since then.

Although she is advancing in age, Salem continues to be an engaging ambassador for her species. As she has gotten older, the animal care team has monitored her very closely. The team tracks her movements and behaviors, ever watchful of the slightest changes. This helps us determine what changes we may be able to make to provide her more comfort. She still voluntarily participates in her training sessions with keepers allowing her to be an active participant in her own health care. This continues to be helpful to give her needed vaccines, medications, and overall visual exams.

Guests may notice her favorite hammock bed has been repositioned to make it more accessible, her habitat has been modified to prevent her from jumping onto dangerous perches that are difficult for her older bones to maneuver, and if she is showing signs of pain or discomfort, pain medication can be administered by the veterinary care team.

Salem celebrating her 18th birthday is quite an achievement for a species whose wild counterpart lives to be around 10 years old. Throughout the years she has become an iconic animal for the guests, volunteers and team members of The Living Desert. Her struts by the window, mesmerizing stares and playful antics have instilled respect and love for her. She has inspired thousands on people of behalf of her species to have a greater understanding of how incredible these felines are.

Happy 18th Birthday Salem!


A geriatric care plan has been established over the last couple of years to ensure Salem is comfortable, happy, and pain-free as she ages. By using both observational, diagnostic, and therapeutic techniques, the animal care and veterinary team can continue to provide her with the highest quality of life, including knowing when the appropriate time may be to say goodbye. This is one of the most difficult parts of the animal care profession, but when this decision has to be made it does become the last gift we can give to our animals alleviating any suffering they may experience towards the end of their life. We never take this responsibility lightly, and the decision is always made respectfully.

The animal care and veterinary care team not only utilize their own professional experiences to give this whole life care but will also consult with other experts and specialists from universities, human medicine, specialized veterinarians, other zoos and species advisory groups. When we collaborate with others, this helps the species overall, as well as the individuals in our care. We are learning and sharing, as an animal care community, to provide better veterinary, husbandry, and wellness care. We are committed to each of our animals from birth until they leave us, and we work hard to help them make life’s transitions with the highest level of care, thoughtfulness, and expertise.

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