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Co-Existing With Animals

Co-Existing with Animals
During certain times of the year, the City experiences an increase in animal activity, specifically skunks, feral cats and coyotes. The City has historically practiced a no-kill policy pertaining to domestic and uninjured wild animals and strongly encourages citizens to respect and co-exist with wildlife.  Like many other North Shore communities, the City will not intervene with wildlife on private properties unless there is an in-progress public safety threat. The following information is provided to assist residents with understanding and mitigating wildlife activity on private properties.

For a list of private animal control companies in and near Highland Park, please click here.
Large Cats
Over the last few years, there has been an increase in large-cat/ cougar sightings in the North Shore area, including Highland Park. While these sightings have remained unconfirmed through photographic or physical evidence, they have caused an increase in local media attention and citizen interest and concern. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) advises that there are no sustained populations of cougars in Illinois, however young cougars have been known to pass through the Midwest from their original region in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Cougars generally avoid populated areas and their primary food source is deer.

Confirmed Cougar sightings and law enforcement contact with large cats in populated areas pose a unique set of challenges and require an appropriate and consistent response.  Most North Shore law enforcement agencies have investigated big cat sighting reports and communicated unconfirmed sightings to the public through community alerts.

The Traffic Unit recently consulted with an Illinois Department of Resources (INDR), District (9) Wildlife Biologist for guidance on managing big cat complaints/ investigations/ sightings/contacts. SB3049 which took effect January 1, 2015, amended the Illinois Wildlife Code by adding black bears, mountain lions, and gray wolves to the list of protected species. Mountain lions have many commonly used names which include: cougar, panther, American lion, and puma.  SB 3049 allows landowners to take a black bear or mountain lion if there is an imminent threat to lives and property. The law also allows landowners to apply for a nuisance permit from the IDNR to remove an animal that is not an immediate threat.

To comply with the Illinois Wildlife Code, the INDR recommends a “surveillance” approach which includes community alerts and education efforts. Unless a situation involving a big cat warrants the defense of citizens or police officers, euthanizing big cats solely because of their presence is prohibited.  In addition, other wild animals that can be found in the Chicagoland area include badger, bobcat, coyote, gray fox, red fox, mink and muskrat. These wild animals usually avoid people and should be given their respective space. The City of Highland Park encourages citizens to co-exist with all forms of wildlife.

Public safety is of utmost importance to the City.  Citizens are encouraged to report sightings of suspicious animals immediately via the Highland Park Police non-emergency telephone number 847.432.7730 and obtain photographs if possible.  In case of an emergency, please dial 911.

Striped skunks are common throughout the United States and Canada.  Skunks breed in late February, give birth in May or June and can produce litters between 2 to 16 skunks.  Often by the fall, offspring separate from their mother, becoming self dependent, and seeking new territory to occupy.  Skunks are very active during the fall, scavenging for plant and animal food before they hibernate during the coldest portion of winter.  The average lifespan of a skunk is three years.  Skunk populations are usually controlled and managed by curious dogs, the Great Horned Owl and automobiles. 

Citizens can make their properties less appealing to skunks by:

  • trimming back overgrown landscaping,
  • filling in any holes on their properties,
  • sealing off areas under decks, removing any yard debris & outdoor wood piles,
  • cease the use of birdseed on their properties,
  • removing water sources,
  • properly storing garbage,
  • utilizing motion sensor lights at night, and
  • making noise prior to exiting a residence or vehicle at night to scare off any skunks lingering in the area.

Feral Cats
A feral cat is a domesticated cat that has returned to the wild or a descendant of the animal.  It is distinguished from a stray cat that has been lost or abandoned while feral cats have never been socialized.  Feral cats can be effective hunters, controlling rodent, bird, rabbit, and reptile populations.  Feral cats are also scavengers, eating dead animals, garbage, and pet food left outdoors.  

Citizens can make their properties less appealing to feral cats by: 

  • trimming back landscaping,
  • filling in any holes on their properties,
  • sealing off areas under decks,
  • removing yard debris & outdoor wood piles,
  • cease the use of birdseed on their properties,
  • removing water sources,
  • properly storing  garbage and
  • utilizing motion sensor lights at night.

Bats help humans by controlling mosquito and insect populations and have been used in the development of vaccines. However, bats can pose a threat to safety  if they bite a human or companion animal (i.e., dog or cat) because of the possibility of disease transmission, such as rabies. 

Medical statistics show that only a handful of people have ever contracted rabies from bats in the United States. Only a small percentage of bats have rabies; the incidence of rabies is no greater than from other animals. Human encounters with bats are infrequent. Bats do not attack people and are usually passive. The Highland Park Police Department urges citizens to avoid contact with bats. Bat bites (defensive bites) occur from handling or accidental contact with grounded bats. 

Residents may contract with a private animal control company to bat-proof their home. For a list of private animal control companies in and near Highland Park, please click here.

If you find a bat in a home or building in Highland Park, you can contact the Highland Park Police Animal Control at the non-emergency telephone number 847.432.7730 to assist in its safe removal. If a person is bitten by a bat or has direct contact with a bat, the incident should be reported to the Police Department. Recovered bats will be sent to the Lake County Rabies Control facility in Mundelein for rabies testing and the exposed person will be advised of the status. For more information on bats and rabies, visit the web site:

Coyote activity in Highland Park is not unusual. Coyotes co-exist with humans in all the United States except Hawaii. They are a highly intelligent canine animal and an integral part of the eco-system. Their predominant diet is small rodents, rabbits, berries and other plant material. They are opportunistic hunters and in urban areas, often seek free meals from garbage, road kills, bird feeders and pet food. Coyotes will usually frequent areas where these food sources are prevalent. Coyotes are generally wary of humans and attacks on people are extremely rare. Studies indicate that there have been 16 reported cases in the last 30 years in North America and only one recorded human fatality in U.S. history according to 2011 data. Statistics indicate that coyotes are far less of a threat than the dog next door. Domestic pet dogs kill an average of about 20 people per year.

The City of Highland Park supports a “no kill” policy with regard to all wildlife and abandoned pets. In keeping with that policy, the Police Department will continue to monitor coyote activity in the City and request that residents keep their pets close by on a leash while outside. With increased coyote activity in urbanized areas come increased numbers of interactions with people. The vast majority of these encounters are merely sightings. Most people are unaware that there are coyotes in their midst, as coyotes generally tend to keep a low profile and avoid humans. It has been our experience that coyote’s will move to other areas if they cannot find an ample food source. Coyotes very rarely target small pets when they are supervised.

The following steps can be taken to by citizens to minimize conflicts with coyotes:

  • Secure garbage
  • Do not leave dog or cat pet food or water supplies outdoors
  • Consider not utilizing birdseed to feed birds, birds attracted by birdseed may attract coyotes onto a property
  • Keep pets inside at night, as coyotes are primarily nocturnal
  • Walk your dog on a leash at all times. If your yard does not have a fence, use a leash while on your property to keep your dog close to you
  • Consider installing fencing and outside lighting (triggered by motion sensors) to deter coyotes from entering and remaining on a property

If a citizen encounters a coyote, the following is recommended:

  • Do not turn your back on or run from a coyote
  • Attempt to leave the area calmly
  • If followed by a coyote, make loud noises and make yourself look big by raising your hands above your head, or making a cape of your coat or shirttails and holding it up behind you
  • Keep yourself between a coyote and small children or companion animals
  • If walking in areas frequented by coyotes, carry a deterrent such as an air horn, whistle, walking stick, or cane