Irvine Park's cougars could soon be too expensive to keep

By: Mary Rinzel with Photographer Duane Wolter Email
By: Mary Rinzel with Photographer Duane Wolter Email

After growing up in Chippewa Fall's Irvine Park, a zoo favorite might be on the way out. Turns out, the cougars could soon prove too expensive to keep.

Every year, thousands of people gaze through the glass in Irvine Park. The cougars, well they barely bat an eye.

"Where else would we see them? They're fascinating. They’re beautiful," says Sue Jenson of Cornell.

But, they're also getting up there in age; going on 11 or 12 years old with a life expectancy of 15 to 20. And as those in the animal world know, they're closing in on the age where vet bills can quickly add up into the thousands of dollars.

"We have to keep our feelings separate when you're dealing with animals, zoos and exhibits,” says Chippewa Falls Parks and Recreation Director Bill Faherty. “Yeah, it's always tough, tougher for the zoo keeper who deals with them everyday and knows them."

Faherty says he knows there's a lot of love for the cougars in Chippewa. But, he says switching up the cat acts can also be a great way to draw more people to the park.

Four-year-old Keelin and her mom make a point to stop at Irvine Park every year on their way home to Illinois. Keelin says she likes the tigers best, but for her mom, it's the cougars that are nostalgic.

"They're comfortable and they've been here. Save them—maybe get more donations or have a cougar fundraiser or something," says Terri Barton of Wauconda, Illinois

It was a sentiment echoed throughout the park.

"I've grown up with them so I like seeing them here," says Allison Sullivan of Chippewa Falls. “The more the merrier, but we're happy to see the ones that we've grown up with as well."

To which the director wants to offer his reassurance—the cougars will be OK.

"They'll still have, not as great of a place as Chippewa Falls, but they'll be taken care of," Faherty says with a smile.

Faherty says nothing is set in stone. He says if the cougars' owner can find them a good home, a trade could happen this summer. They'd swap them out for another animal, possibly bobcats again or Canadian lynx. If not, the cougars will stay at Irvine Park.

Faherty adds now is a good time to try and swap the cougars because they’re still having babies so other zoos will likely be interested. He says planning ahead is key to keep the exhibits the best they can be.

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