Caged coyote should be moved to animal sanctuary, veterinarians urge Cook County Forest Preserve officials

·3 min read

A series of prominent veterinarians Tuesday called for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to free a coyote from its cage and transfer it to an animal sanctuary, while officials defended their treatment of the animal as a way to connect the public with wildlife.

The 3-year-old coyote has been on display at River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook since it was mistakenly raised as a puppy at an animal shelter in Tennessee, and is considered dependent on humans to survive.

About 2,400 people have signed an online petition objecting to what it describes as the coyote’s inhumane conditions. Northbrook resident Nicole Milan, who started the petition, offered to have private donors pay to transfer the coyote to the Wild Animal Sanctuary outside of Denver, Colorado. Outside experts voiced their concerns about the animal’s well-being before an online meeting of the Forest Preserve board of commissioners.

Valerie Johnson, a veterinarian and assistant professor at Michigan State University, told the board that videos of the coyote pacing show it is under a lot of stress.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary, where she worked previously, has a very large area for coyotes, either in packs or by themselves, with underground dens and vegetation to hide from humans.

“It provides a more natural place, as good as you can get …” she said, “for an animal that cannot be released into the wild.”

“There is no educational value to having children see an animal stressed in a cage,” she said. “In my mind, it just shows them that’s OK, which it is not.”

Dr. Audrey Siegrist, veterinarian for the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana, who previously worked in coyote rehabilitation, said she was concerned about the size of the enclosure, which officials said measures about 266 square feet, whereas coyotes in the wild cover a range of several square miles.

She also emphasized that most coyotes are social animals, living in a pack, while some are solitary, often because they have lost a mate or are looking for a pack.

“The most important thing is providing it with more what they would need naturally,” she said. “A large space, and an opportunity for proper socialization.”

The district keeps so-called “ambassador animals” at five different nature centers. Most are injured and unable to live in the wild.

Jacqui Ulrich, director of the Cook County Forest Preserves, said the district animals are inspected by veterinarians annually, and meet or exceed all standards from inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The district spends $63,000 a year on food, housing, upkeep and care of the animals, plus staff time, and gets advice from senior wildlife biologist Chris Anchor, with 34 years’ experience, who conducts important research on wild coyotes through the Urban Coyote Research Project.

Officials said the coyote is often calm, but gets excited and paces when people visit or before feeding time. They described the Forest Preserve workers as its family and pack.

Many school children and other visitors may never see such animals in the wild, and come to the nature center for that chance, Ulrich said.

“Our ambassador animal programs are some of our most popular programs,” she said. “It’s an opportunity ... to see them up close and learn a lot about them.”

The nature center with the coyote is located in the district of Forest Preserve Commissioner Scott Britton, who visited the coyote in its cage last week, and said the staff members love the animal.

“We’re just trying to figure out what’s best for this coyote,” he said. “We need to continue this conversation ... to what we can do to improve this situation.”

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