Three orphaned cougars from Washington are now making their home in Minnesota.

Wildlife officials recently relocated the kittens — two males and one female — to the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn., after they were discovered huddled without their mother under a homeowner’s deck in Winthrop, Wash. Their mother likely was the same cougar shot days earlier because she was roaming through town, said Washington Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Dan Christensen.

Tammy Thies, the Wildcat Sanctuary founder and executive director, said she agreed to take the orphaned cougars when Washington wildlife officials called in late January looking for a permanent home for them. The kittens were no longer nursing but likely weren’t proficient enough hunters to survive on their own.

“They still treat everything as a toy,” Thies said of the kittens. “In the wild, they would stay with their mom for up to two years to learn to hunt and protect their territory.”

The idea of releasing a cougar after it’s old enough to hunt is controversial because some experts believe it wouldn’t survive or that it would have imprinted on humans and become nuisances and a public safety risk, Thies said.

The cougars arrived at the Wildcat Sanctuary on Feb. 3 and are being quarantined for 30 days to ensure they are healthy. The males have been neutered and the female spayed “because we don’t want to breed another cat to be held in captivity,” Thies said. The sanctuary is home to 116 cats, including lions and tigers.

The cougars are six months old or younger and weigh 40 to 50 pounds. When they are bigger, they will be moved into a larger habitat area.

In the meantime, their personalities are emerging. Surprisingly, it’s the female that’s the alpha.

“She’s the smallest but definitely braver than the boys,” Thies said.

Of the sanctuary’s nine other wild-born cougars, it’s the males that run the mountain lion show and the females that are the most shy, Thies said.

Then again, she added, maybe the females are just the smartest. “They only use humans for what they need and then they kind of disappear into the woods,” Thies said.

“So this [newest] little girl stands out. Wild-borns tend to be apprehensive of people but she’s pretty much telling us she’s the boss over them and us. There’s a lot of hissing, spitting, but she’s coming right to us for food. She knows what she wants for sure.”