The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Is Chicago Going to the (Big) Cats and Dogs?

By JoshMogerman in News on Dec 8, 2013 4:45PM

Coyote seen in Forest Park's Concordia Cemetary earlier this year [Ann Fisher]

Despite a concerted effort to pave over every last tree and blade of grass in America’s cities, nature still finds a way. To wit: just days after a cougar was killed by wildlife officials on a northern Illinois farm, we have had some unusual animal interactions even closer to home this week as a mountain lion was sighted slinking around Glencoe near the Chicago Botanic Garden and a coyote crapped up the morning commute for drivers on I-55.

Neither incident should be that surprising. Mountain lions have been increasingly nibbling away at the edges of Chicagoland for some time. (Well, showing up there and maybe nibbling away on suburban deer).

Mountain lions will show up more and more as the big cats expand eastward from the Dakotas. And coyotes have been making their presence known in Chicago for some time. (We saw one crossing King Drive near McCormick Place a few weeks ago!).

Cook County actually runs the world's largest urban coyote study in conjunction with Ohio State. After radio collaring 250 of the crafty canids, the program's researchers “couldn't find an area in Chicago where there weren't coyotes.” The research points to a resident coyote population thousands strong, offering plenty of positives for Chicago. Beyond taking a bite out of nuisance rat, mouse, and goose populations, a new study of area coyotes suggests their presence protects songbirds and other species by scaring feral cats out of urban natural areas where our fine feathered friends often congregate.

We find these critters thrilling. There is something wonderful about a wild presence in the city not related to flash mobs. But that presence requires thoughtful action to deal with any conflicts that might arise. A forceful Trib editorial rightly took the state to task in the wake of the cougar shooting last month.

With the possibility of an eventual breeding population of cougars in Illinois, the authorities should take cues from Chicago's coyote population as they mull the way forward. It is time for appropriate legislation and policies to be put in place to protect our human and critter residents.