Captive Cook County coyote will receive a new and improved cage

A coyote kept in a cage at a Cook County Forest Preserve will be given a larger, better-equipped enclosure in response to protests over the animal’s living conditions, officials said Tuesday.

The Forest Reserve District released an internal audit citing outside experts who said the coyote is “healthy and happy” but that improvements should be made to the district’s captive animal program.

Officials said they will build a new enclosure this year at the River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook that will cover up to 2,500 square feet — seven to nine times larger than the coyote’s current cage. The new space should include trees and other natural features, places to dig, more space to get away from people, and complexity to provide more stimulation.

Activists, who call the animal Rocky, were unhappy with the district’s rejection of their offer to pay for the coyote‘s transfer to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, where the animals live in packs in large fenced fields.

The Chicago Animal Alliance released a statement saying members were “incredibly saddened” by the district’s decision, which was made by staff and never came to a board vote.

Jodie Wiederkehr, executive director of the alliance, said: ‘We won’t stop standing up for Rocky until they show some humanity and allow this very isolated but social animal to finally be on his way. to a much more suitable and much happier habitat. life.”

For its audit, the forest reserve consulted two veterinarians, Alisa Kubala, of the Veterinary Emergency Group in Chicago, who has worked with wild gorillas and carnivores, and Edgar Garrett, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. , which specializes in livestock.

Based on in-person visits, the two found that the coyote was well cared for and that his frequent circling was not a sign of stress, as advocates and outside vets had argued. The animal’s care met all standards set by the US Department of Agriculture, the audit found.

But Kubala called for allowing more natural behaviors such as hunting and exploration. She recommended keeping the animal with a pet coyote in a larger enclosure, citing a 5,000 square foot guideline from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Garrett didn’t find this necessary, noting that this coyote was “imprinted” by being raised by humans.

While coyotes typically live in pairs or packs, about a third live alone, according to radio-collar tracking by the local Urban Coyote Research Project.

District coyote veterinarian Jamie Abete said transferring him to live with other animals could put him at risk, as he has been impregnated and has been living alone for more than three years.

The audit included an action plan to follow industry best practices in animals in the district’s care. He recommended improving enrichment activities for animals and providing educational programs to clarify the differences between wild and domestic animals and the importance of staying away from wild coyotes.

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The forest reserve district will temporarily stop acquiring new animals until it assesses its processes and makes any necessary changes, which it expects to complete early next year.

District officials say the “animal ambassador” program is important, along with staff presentations, in educating tens of thousands of visitors each year about animals they might never otherwise see.

Next year, the district will evaluate the effectiveness of its Animal Ambassador educational programs to see which ones resonate best with the public.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary’s Executive Director, Pat Craig, previously wrote that in his experience with many other animals that have been kept in cages like Rocky, the coyote would be much happier with the freedom to roam and live with others of its kind.

Nicole Milan, a Northbrook resident who has helped raise concerns about the coyote, said she and other supporters are “heartbroken” that Rocky is staying on the reservation.

Activists would continue to advocate for Rocky’s release, she added, saying, “We’re not giving up.”

rmccoppin@chicagotribune.com


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