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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  • by megan Location: osseo on Jun 2, 2010 at 02:24 PM
    I think they should keep the cougars until they either pass or get sick. I like seeing them and all the cats there. You pay all that money for the new cougar exhibit but then get rid of them. What a joke.
  • by just my thoughts Location: Thorp on Jun 2, 2010 at 11:38 AM
    Seems so wrong to get rid of the cougars. of that To get rid of them after the people paid for a new exhibit is just a bad move. If the people paid to keep cougars there then get a new cougar not something else.
  • by Anon Location: Chippewa on Jun 2, 2010 at 11:16 AM
    First - I find it hilarious that he says the cougars hardly bat an eye at folks...this is not the case if you have a stroller or a wagon!! The one cougar flips out!! She stalks the wagon/stroller and hisses at it! Took me awhile to get used to this animal acting as if though my child was on her lunch menu - but I did - I don't want to see them leave. But it will happen eventually. So whatever is best for the cougars has my vote!! Whether that is a new home or a fundraiser to help cover the costs. Before a fundraiser though - everyone that goes up there should drop some $$ in the donations bin!! And quit leaving garbage all over the place!! That raises costs too!! I seen as ostrich there one day, but have never seen it again. Is it just hiding or was it sent elsewhere???
  • by Ang Location: Eau Claire on Jun 2, 2010 at 04:36 AM
    Save the Cougars!
  • by Anonymous Location: Chippewa Falls on Jun 1, 2010 at 08:32 PM
    We were taught that William Irvine has a trust that can be taken out of as long as the donations from the community match what is to be taken out. How does Chippewa Park and Rec think they are going to keep getting donations if they remove everything people donate too? I mean yes we still have the bear exhibit, but we the public donate to build a bob cat exhibit, only for them to get rid of them and put tigers in that tiny area. And now to get rid of the Cougar exhibit another exhibit that was from donated monies to the Cougars. If you keep telling the public they are donating to one thing and then take that thing away, why would they donate?
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