Cosley Zoo Welcomes Conservation Success Story to New Exhibit

Two bobcats come to live in new exhibit at Cosley Zoo in Wheaton.

By J. Eakins

Sal and Val moved here from California. They don’t mind a little weather. And they really like their new place, especially the waterfall out back.

Sal and Val are Cosley Zoo’s two newest residents, lynx rufus, known as bobcats. Named for its stubby tail, the bobcat is one of two cats native to Illinois and has been sighted in all of the fifty states except Delaware. (Rumor has it that the people of Delaware haven’t been looking very hard.)

For many years, bobcats were listed as endangered species in Illinois due to degradation of their natural habitat. Sal and Val were discovered in an attic as babies by a family that were not entirely sure what type of animal they’d found.

“They’re very cute animals when they’re young,” said Ali Crumpacker, the Director of The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in southern California. “But they are wild animals. After a few weeks, the family realized those teeth and claws were still growing.”

That’s when Sal and Val were brought to the Wildlife Center. Unfortunately, the animals had imprinted on their human benefactors and were too comfortable with people to ever go back into the wild.

According to Crumpacker, the brothers are both curious and social. “When we’d turn on the tractor out in the fields, the rest of the bobcats would run. Sal and Val would come to watch.”

Cosley Zoo approached the Wildlife Center as construction of the new bobcat exhibit got underway. The Center is one of a handful of rehabilitation facilities in the continental United States that also provides long-term living arrangements for bobcats.

Russ Wennerstrom, of E.P. Doyle and Son, served as Project Manager for construction of the new exhibit at Cosley, which includes sculpted rock walls, an enclosure, specially constructed fencing and a waterfall. “We were really happy to work on a project that our whole community can enjoy,” said Wennerstrom. “I think this exhibit sets the bar higher. It’s a very natural setting. And the cats seem to like it.”

“With a wild species, we’re always looking for natural habitat placements. Unfortunately, they don’t come up very often,” Crumpacker said. “Cosley Zoo is a perfect placement for Sal and Val because it’s a natural, yet social setting, that’s great for their curious personalities.”

By sending the brother bobcats to Cosley Zoo, the Wildlife Center makes room to care for other animals. This year they helped rehabilitate sixteen bobcats.

Sue Wahlgren, Director of Cosley Zoo, is excited to see the bobcats settling into their new home. “They are doing really well. Their first interaction with the wider public was at the Bobcat Bash; they were watching the guests, as much as the guests were watching them.”

According to Wahlgren, “Bobcats are a conservation success story. In the 1960’s they were almost gone here in Illinois. Through education, habitat preservation and controls on hunting we’ve made real changes in wildlife populations.”

Conservation is an on-going mission for the zoo. Since 2001, the zoo has worked together with the Forest Preserve of DuPage County to preserve and protect the endangered Blanding’s Turtle. Recently, that partnership expanded to include the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, St. Charles Park District and Brookfield Zoo.

Working with the Wildlife Center has been the longest distance partnership yet for the zoo, but also one of the most satisfying.

“Each of us has limited resources, but together we have more of everything—money, expertise, facilities—so we can do more to help,” says Wahlgren. “The party we gave to welcome the bobcats brought it home for me and all the staff. Watching the people and animals interacting, you really feel the power of what we do.”

Cosley Zoo is located at 1356 N. Gary Avenue, Wheaton, online at www.cosleyzoo.org phone at 630.665.5534. To find out more about how you can help support Cosley Zoo’s efforts to care for animals, email Sarah O’Donnell, Director of Development, a sodonnell@wheatonparks.org or call (630)510-4986.

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