Let's turn Chicago into Cougartown

OPINION

  • A cougar lounges at Wildlife Prairie State Park near Peoria in 2006.
A cougar lounges at Wildlife Prairie State Park near Peoria in 2006. (Jason Wambsgans/Chicago…)
October 17, 2012|By Ryan Smith, @ryansmithwriter | For RedEye

I was slightly baffled when I first heard that an influx of bears and cougars might soon hit Chicago.

Why would professional football players and older women who dig young guys suddenly move to the city in large numbers? But the report, as it turns out, was talking about the literal migration of animals rather than offensive linemen or Courteney Cox.

A survey conducted by Southern Illinois University at Carbondale showed that a handful of black bears, mountain lions and gray wolves have appeared in Illinois since 2000. There's been only one official sighting in the city in the past five years—a cougar that was shot in Roscoe Village in '08—but wildlife experts recently told the Tribune that a growing number of these species could nest in the Chicago area.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Great, I already have to worry about bad drivers, muggers, crazy people on the CTA and the wrath of Mayor Emanuel, and now I have to watch out for predatory mammals?!"

Some of you might see this as proof the Chicago-based, post-apocalyptic TV show "Revolution" is coming true and the city eventually will turn into a crazy jungle ruled by militias and the former drug kingpin from "Breaking Bad." But let's take a collective deep breath and think about this rationally.

While it's true that real-life bears and big cats aren't cuddly, wisecracking beasts with celebrity voices like in the movies, most evidence suggests that these urban animals won't attack us on the streets or treat the Montrose dog beach like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Take, for instance, the case of the coyote. Did you know there are thousands of them roaming around Cook County? Probably not, because they tend to be averse to human contact and live around wooded golf courses and parks in cities (what, you expected them to hang out at beer patios?). According to the Cook County Coyote Project, there have been zero reports of coyote-on-human attacks here, but thousands of cases of dog bites annually.

I can think of other reasons why we should welcome our new furry neighbors with open arms:

  • We have professional sports teams named the Bears, Wolves and Bulls, yet if we were to name our teams based on the animals that live in the wild here, they'd be the Chicago Seagulls, Bunnies and Pigeons. Think how cool it would be if we had actual brown bears in Soldier Field instead of drunk guys wearing bear masks.
     
  • Speaking of animal infestations, I can almost hear the laughter from the dozens of squirrels and rabbits running wild in my neighborhood about the idea that man is the most dangerous predator. There are so many fluffy-tailed squirrels on my block, I think they could probably defeat us in an uprising if they decided to band together and fight us while we're busy poking at our iPhones. We could really use some help from cougarkind to curb their population.
     
  • This was their land first. Before Chicago was developed in the middle of a marshy nowhere, the Windy City was home to coyotes and other large mammals. I'm not saying we need animal affirmative action, but let's not boot them out of here twice. We're a city of inclusivity, right? Why not add a diversity of species to that list?

Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.

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