Haven or stay? Experts and activists disagree about coyote care at Northbrook Nature Center

The male, 4-year-old coyote, residing in a 266-square-foot enclosure as part of the Ambassador Animal Preserve Program in Cook County Forest at the River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook, is scheduled to be moved to an area approximately 10 times larger, but that doesn’t look The plan is suitable for animal rights activists who, instead, want him to move to the Colorado Wildlife Sanctuary.

Named for by those concerned about his plight, the neutered male was confused with a German Shepherd puppy in 2018 when he was found in Tennessee. Rocky was very young and his eyes were not yet open; He spent several weeks at an animal shelter for cats and dogs, according to a January Facebook post from the Forest Conservation Area. The staff at the Tennessee shelter didn’t realize it was a wild animal, so they adopted it.

After learning he was, in fact, a wolf, a Tennessee animal rehabilitation specialist worked with Rocky for several weeks, the publication says, to prepare him for release. However, an evaluation by a rehab and a vet at the time reported that it had been imprinted by humans and could not be released into the wild, as it not only feared humans but relied on them to survive.

Rocky was subsequently transferred to the River Trail Nature Center and has lived there ever since.

There are similar enclosures near the coyotes where birds of prey that cannot survive in the wild live.

A 41-page review of the Ambassador Animal program was submitted to the Cook County Board of Commissioners this summer. The purpose of the Ambassador Animal Program is to educate people about the indigenous wildlife of Cook County and to promote the coexistence of humans and wildlife. The report says the USDA inspects the Animal Ambassador program, and other permit holders, regularly.

But when Northbrook resident Nicole Millan visited the nature center late last year, she noticed coyotes’ behaviour, including speed, and raised concerns about their well-being. Acting on information from biologists and veterinarians familiar with wolves, I have since tried to move him to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Kinsburg, Colorado. However, her efforts and those of others have met with resistance from the forest reserve, which operates the River Trail Nature Center.


Since Milan drew attention to the issue last year, forest reserve officials have decided to build a new 2,500-square-foot outdoor enclosure, said Carl Vogel, director of communications. The new enclosure is due to be built this year, but work has not started.

“They’re building a bigger, more inconvenient, inferior fence,” Milan said. “You’re still facing the parking lot, (with) the noise of the crowd. It’s not big enough at all.

“The whole (Ambassador Animal) program is out there, it’s an old, old way of watching animals. We will continue to fight to get Rocky released to an animal sanctuary and stop this practice.”

Milan provided information via email, presented in question-and-answer form, from The Wild Animal Sanctuary, regarding 12 wolves that currently reside in three habitats of 3.1, 1.5 and 0.25 acres. For comparison, that’s roughly 135,000, 65,000, and 11,000 square feet, respectively. Six wolves live in the largest habitat. Three of them each live on the smallest.

But Dr. Jamie Appite of Niles Animal Hospital and Byrd Medical Center, current wolf veterinarian, said in an email that moving the wolf would be harmful.

“He is ineligible to interact with other coyotes and is likely to be a social outcast, which could jeopardize his safety and well-being,” she wrote. “It would be detrimental to the health of this wolf to be placed with other wolves and to be snatched away from their keepers.”

Forest conservation officials had two independent experts monitoring the wolf, and their findings were included in an appendix to a review submitted this summer: Dr. Alyssa Kupala, veterinarian and Ph.D. Candidate in Conservation Medicine working with the Emergency Veterinary Group in Chicago, Dr. Edgar Garrett, veterinarian, clinician, and professor at the University of Illinois Veterinary Hospital at Urbana.

Enclosure size should be improved, Kupala noted, and “the animals should be displayed in exhibits similar to the wild environment and in sufficient numbers to meet their social and behavioral needs.”

She also mentioned that coyotes are usually social animals, living in groups of various sizes – although some are solitary, usually temporary.

“Single specimens should be avoided unless they are biologically correct for the species in question,” she said.

Additionally, the report noted that a large dog, such as a coyote, should be displayed in an enclosure of at least 5,000 square feet and provided with multiple places to hide within the enclosure to escape or deal with any unexpected loud noises.

During her observation, Kupala said she saw wild genetics behaviors including normal neophobia, expressed in fear/aggression towards new people, and that coyotes snarled and growled when she approached, as well as a strong prey drive when he saw children running near the enclosure. (The fence separates the audience from the fence) and food assault towards his guard.

“It was his ranger’s tendency to ‘downplay the wolf’s natural wild behaviours,'” she said.

Dr. Garrett said that while the size of the current canister is sufficient, there will be advantages to increasing it.

“The extra volume will allow the wolf more room to move around and to create additional structures to provide visual barriers for a sense of privacy to the wolf,” he said.

Jarrett said he had no concerns about the wolf’s mental state.

“Wolf mental health is a top priority among employees,” Garrett said. “Two feeding periods each day are coupled with interactions with the rangers.” “During my observations, Wolf responded to the goalkeepers in a positive way and seemed to be quite enjoying interacting with the goalkeepers.”

The coyotes are safe, healthy, and unstressed, Vogel said, adding that Rocky will not be transferred to the Colorado Preserve, stressing that the jungle conservation area will soon build the largest enclosure.

“She’s been here her whole life, except for the first few months,” Vogel said. “Keeping coyotes on the River Trail is a decision we made.”

Erin Sewell of Glenview, a member of the Chicago Animal Alliance, also sought to relocate the wolf to the Colorado Preserve. She said that the wolf was treated like a dog, and not a wild animal, because it was initially thought to be a dog.

“It’s just a sad case of humans getting it wrong in the beginning, and they still do it now, when it can easily be fixed,” Sewell said. They will be heroes if they hand him over.”

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