Captive coyote at center of ‘ambassador’ animal controversy will remain in Cook County Forest Preserve, but digs will be bigger | Chicago News


Cook County Forest Preserves just released 11 endangered Blanding’s Turtles into the wild, but it was a captive animal in the district’s custody that dominated the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of forest reserve commissioners. .

Specifically, officials responded to concerns raised in early 2022 regarding the welfare of a coyote living at the River Trail Nature Center.

The coyote was observed pacing and showing signs of stress, animal rights activists said, and they called for the animal to be moved to a Colorado wildlife sanctuary.

On Tuesday, the Forest Reserves Department of Conservation and Experiential Programming shared the results of a month-long review of its animal ambassador program, of which the coyote is one. The coyote, the report concludes, will remain at River Trail, but in greatly expanded digs, along with other recommended modifications to its care.

“Our conclusions are based on science, Jacqui Ulrich, director of the department, told the commissioners during the presentation of a summary of the report.

His team conducted more than a dozen interviews with animal care experts, including representatives from the Shedd Aquarium and Brookfield and Lincoln Park zoos, as well as peer organizations. Two veterinarians also conducted independent assessments of the coyote’s health and living conditions as part of the examination.

“None of the experts found the animal pacing unnaturally,” Ulrich said.

The coyote is in good condition, veterinarians reported, and its shelter and nutrition meet standards set by entities such as the United States Department of Agriculture and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. But the animal could benefit from more spacious housing and increased “enrichment” – challenges and stimulation – that the reserve has pledged to provide.

“We meet the standards,” Ulrich said. “But our bar is to be ahead of the curve.”

According to the report, Forest Reserves will build a 2,000 to 2,500 square foot enclosure for the coyote at the River Trail Nature Center. The new structure will include more naturalistic features and more and larger spaces to keep the coyote away from people. The enclosure will be built in 2022, officials said.

Additionally, the reserves will create consistent messaging to the public about the coyote and its care, as well as the coyotes living in the wild in Cook County.

The Ambassador Program has value in educating people about the wildlife of the area and it also provides a home for animals that for various reasons cannot survive in the wild. In the case of the coyote, which has lived on River Trail since 2018, the animal was rescued in Tennessee as a newborn and mistaken for a puppy. After spending weeks in a dog and cat shelter, the coyote was found to be “impregnated” on the man.

The policies adopted for the coyote will also extend to other ambassadors, building on rapidly evolving best practices in the field of animal ambassadors, Ulrich said.

This includes shifting to an “animals first” paradigm, which cedes more control to animals – for example, animals can choose whether they want to engage with the public on any given day.

The grassroots organization Chicago Alliance for Animals has expressed frustration with the forest reserves’ decision to keep the coyote in its custody.

“We won’t stop defending Rocky – (their name for the coyote) – until they do the human thing and allow this very isolated, yet social animal to finally be on its way to a much loved habitat. more appropriate and a much happier life,” said Jodie Wiederkehr, executive director of the alliance.

Note: This story was originally published on July 26. It’s been updated to include our “Chicago Tonight” conversation.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 | [email protected]

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