NORTH PARK — It's no Loch Ness Monster, but the coywolf, a coyote-wolf hybrid, is as close to a mythical creature as urbanites are likely to encounter.
On Sunday, a North Park resident took to Facebook to report a run-in with red wolves in Legion Park.
"Be very careful. They were tracking us and not very deterred by our 55-lb. lab/shepherd mix. They are about the size of an adult male shepherd and fierce. Do not approach them," read the warning.
Neighbors immediately chimed in with similar sightings:
"Yes I've seen them! ... they looked big enough to do harm...and they stared us down for a good minute and a half before running off. Thankfully I was leaving with a 6' tall male friend ... I could have been a late night snack ..."
Others called into question the presence of wolves in Chicago, theorizing instead that the animals were coywolves, which were first identified in 1919.
Also known as the Eastern Coyote, the coywolf is distinguished from the Western Coyote (the most dominant sub-species in the U.S.) by its elongated legs, larger jaw, smaller ears, longer body and bushier tail.
According to PBS' "Nature," the urban coywolf can be found in large parks with wooded areas, cemeteries adjacent to woods and small parks with little to no human activity.
The animals weigh 35 to 45 pounds and measure four to five feet in length and feed on deer, rabbits, rodents, and nuts and berries.
Before we all start crying "coywolf," enter the Urban Coyote Research Project to throw cold water on the whole discussion.
The project not only disputes the term but doubts that Eastern Coyotes have encroached into Illinois.
According to the project's FAQ: "The term coywolf is misleading because it suggests a 50/50 hybrid cross between a wolf and a coyote, which the Eastern Coyote is not." Rather the animal boasts a small amount "wolf genetic influence." So do dogs.
The FAQ continues: "There is no evidence to support that eastern coyotes reside in Illinois and it would be unlikely that they could be differentiated by the public from the typical western coyote.... Western coyotes are what you see in Illinois."
While its precise name may be in doubt, the coyote's presence in Chicago is not. Hundreds, if not thousands, are estimated to live in the city and shouldn't automatically be perceived as a threat, according to the Urban Coyote Research Project.
The biggest tip for coexisting with the animals: Don't feed them. Repeat, don't feed them.
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