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Lone Elk Park Coyote Rescue

Update March 30th, 2012:  St. Louis County Rabies Control has confirmed with the virology lab in Jefferson City, MO that the adult male coyote from Lone Elk Park was NOT suffering from the rabies virus.  We received testing back from Chesterfield Veterinary Group as positive for the Canine Distemper Virus, as we suspected.

Tuesday, March 6th the Bi-State Wildlife Hotline received a call from a Parks Supervisor for Lone Elk Park regarding a seemingly injured adult coyote.  Lone Elk Park is a beautiful enclosed wildlife park where visitors can drive through and see captive Bison, Elk, Deer, and many varieties of owls and hawks.  The park has acres and acres of area for these animals to roam free, outside of cages, and allows viewing from your vehicle, with a few spots where you can get out and walk around.  The Park Rangers were concerned about this adult coyote that was in the Bison Area of the park, and acted as though he was injured.  From a distance it looked as though he was limping on his front left leg, and might have had something caught around the leg.  The Hotline agreed to put a team together and attempt to catch him to assess his injuries to see what could be done.

In an hour or two we had assembled a crew of rehabbers large enough to hopefully surround the animal and safely capture him.  We were trying to avoid having to ‘chemically capture’ him with the use of tranquilizers if at all possible.  Catching an adult coyote is usually an impossible task.  Coyotes really don’t like people at all, and they’re quick!  Normally we would not have much luck in catching one, making it imperative for us to have a large enough team on site to create the perception that he had nowhere to run without getting caught.  With everyone at the rescue site, the Park Ranger took us to where the coyote was lying in the field.  Thankfully the Bison were keeping their distance from him too, making it slightly more safe for us to approach him.  After 15 minutes of cat and mouse, the coyote was safely captured and placed into a pet taxi for transport to the Wildlife Rehab Clinic in High Ridge, MO.  

Visually, this coyote was in absolutely perfect health.  He was amazing to look at.  He still had winter coloring and blended perfectly into his surroundings.  He weighed about 40lbs which is a great, healthy winter weight.  Our mild winter had done him good.  He certainly hadn’t missed many meals!  His teeth were perfectly white, and his hair coat was clean and full, as though he had just come from the doggie groomers.  Often, with foxes and coyotes, if they are ill in any way they quickly develop mange on top of whatever other injuries or illnesses they have.  This certainly was not the case with this coyote.  There were no signs of the scraggly, malnourished, sick coyotes that we sometimes see on rescues.

Upon arrival to the Wildlife Clinic, the coyote acted extremely lethargic, and we started to notice some very alarming neurological symptoms that we had not witnessed in the field.  His demeanor was not like that of a healthy coyote.  He did not hide in his cage, or lunge at us and act aggressive when we observed him closely.  We were extremely concerned that he was much sicker than we had realized during his rescue.  Before the end of the day, we were really starting to think that he either had some catastrophic neurological injury, or a neurological disease – the most common of which being the canine distemper virus.

The Canine Distemper Virus is a common issue here in the Midwest, and we see it all too often with our resident raccoons and foxes.  Coyotes are not as common, but we know that is possible, even probable with the winter we have (not) had this year.  Typical signs and symptoms of distemper include disorientation, wobbly legs, lack of fear of people or pets, circling, and as it gets worse eye and nasal discharge.  Our beautiful male coyote was now circling in his cage for hours upon hours, wobbling from corner to corner when he walked, and acting very disoriented and confused.  The Wildlife Clinic consulted their veterinarian Dr. Marie Bauer and he was started on medication to rule out any sort of trauma he may have been a victim of.  We still couldn’t rule out the possibility of him being in a scuffle with a bison, elk, or even a car.

However, 24 hours later, his neurological symptoms were worsening, despite amazing around the clock care from the Wildlife Clinic Staff.  He was spending most of his hours just circling in the cage, muscles wasting away because he just couldn’t or wouldn’t lay down, and looking miserable.  It was painful to watch.  He was just too sick.  He could hardly lift his back end off the ground at times, and was starting to wobble to the point that he was falling over when he tried to stand still.  At this point, staff could handle him without restraint equipment because of how non-aggressive he had become.  It was decided that he needed to be humanely euthanized.  The next morning he was transported to veterinarian where samples were taken to send off for testing to determine exactly what he might have been afflicted with.  We believe that he will test positive for canine distemper, but we will not have the results of that test until later in the week, next week.  He was peacefully put to sleep and is no longer suffering.  It is a sad outcome for him, and we are all saddened by the loss of such a beautiful animal.  However, we know all too well the suffering that goes along with this disease, if it was distemper, and we are comforted by the thought that he died with a full belly, in a warm environment, humanely, with people who loved and respected him for what he was – a wild animal afflicted with a terrible virus.

We will update this story as soon as we have test results to close this chapter with the facts that we have.  Please continue to visit Lone Elk Park, where the Park Rangers were kind enough to care about a predatory species, even when they could have approached this problem with a much different outcome.  Also, pay a visit to the Wildlife Rehab Clinic, Inc. website to learn more about them and the great work that they do.

Special thanks to Park Ranger Shaun Dulz, rehabbers Nancy Hunt, Erik Nolan, Darla McGuire, Kathy Crowell, Cindy Babcock, Robyn Benjamin, Janni Schuette, Julie McDonough, Emily Coffey, Kim Skaggs and all of the staff at the Wildlife Rehab Clinic, and Dr. Marie Bauer, Dr. Laura McManus, St. Louis County Animal Control, St. Louis County Parks Division, Chesterfield Valley Vet Group, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

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