Erin Moreland’s first brush with city wildlife came two summers ago when a family of wild rabbits decided to nest in her backyard. She thought she was witnessing nature at its best, until she saw nature at its worst, as the newborn bunnies were attacked by feral cats.
“It was really sad,” said Moreland, 33. “The babies were so tiny.”
She took them to a local animal hospital, but the bunnies eventually died. Fortunately, the family of deer — a doe and her two fawns — that took up residence in Boystown this month have fared better. Cherie Travis, commissioner of Chicago Animal Care and Control said on her Facebook page that the transfer last Saturday morning of the family of deer, dubbed Operation Doe-a-Deer, was a success.
“In a pre-dawn relocation effort, a team from ACC, including the head vet, operations manager, wildlife officer and animal control officers, transported the Lakeview deer from a tiny courtyard to a lush, grassy area,” Travis said in a Facebook post on Saturday.
But this deer incident is anything but an isolated one. Apparently, deer, rats and intoxicated party-goers aren’t the only ones running wild in your neighborhood at night, according to Steve Sullivan, curator of urban ecology for the Chicago Academy of Sciences at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park. The Lincoln Park Zoo also tracks local animals through its Urban Wildlife Institute.
“This happens every single day in the city of Chicago,” Sullivan said. “We have photographic evidence of deer, beaver, white-footed mice — you name it — all this interspersed very regularly in all of our neighborhoods throughout the city.”
But how exactly do these wild animals — which locally also include coyotes, foxes, opossum, raccoons, skunks and many bird species — get here? Sullivan says any patch of trees serves as their highway, until they get to an area in the city when they can no longer hide.
Lakeview residents seemed to relish their up-close and personal brush with Bambi, as several reports said the deer were being fed apples from Whole Foods. But this is not a smart thing to do, Sullivan said, because an animal that gets used to people, or habituated, could turn on a person.
“They see people as vending machines, but at some point the deer is not going to feel like eating,” he said.
Sullivan said deer can get violent, as habituated deer have been known to harm, even kill, humans. The best thing to do in these types of situations is to leave them alone and call the authorities. But as a preservationist, he appreciates that city dwellers are kind to nature, and the dynamics between wildlife and people in urban environments need careful thought.
“These animals are here regardless and I think it will be better if people are able to enjoy the nature in their neighborhood so that they care about all these other species that they never ever see,” he said.
Like Moreland, Lakeview residents seem to really care about a hurt baby rabbit or squirrel.
Adele Houston, the practice manager at Higgins Animal Clinic (1705 W. Belmont Ave.), said people try to bring in hurt wild animals all the time, but it usually ends with the animals being put to sleep.
“Usually if the animal lets a person touch them, they’re usually in bad shape,” she said.
Concerned about a wild animal in your neighborhood? Call Chicago’s Animal Care and Control department at 312-747-1406.
Have you seen a wild animal in your yard? Tell us about it in the comments, or email your photos to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.