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Wild animals invade Sycamore

Canuck, a British Columbian female wolf from Big Run Wolf Ranch, is seen Saturday during a Midwest Museum of Natural History event at the DeKalb County Community Foundation in Sycamore.
Canuck, a British Columbian female wolf from Big Run Wolf Ranch, is seen Saturday during a Midwest Museum of Natural History event at the DeKalb County Community Foundation in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – Wild animals were found in the DeKalb County Community Foundation on Saturday, but don't worry, it was all part of a presentation.

A coyote, wolf, skunk, porcupine and groundhog were shown to a crowd as part of a Midwest Museum of Natural History event. John Basile, president of Big Run Wolf Ranch, brought the critters to educate people about them.

Before Basile pulled out Kirby the skunk, he warned the large crowd that Kirby had only been at these events five times and that he could be scared easily.

Then, shots of a liquid substance appeared to shoot out from the skunk, startling the crowd. Basile pulled out a water gun he was hiding to tell them they had not been sprayed.

Besides, Kirby (a 15-year veteran at Basile's ranch) was already de-scented, meaning the skunk's “stinker” glands were surgically removed, he said.

The first creature Basile showed everyone was Wilson the groundhog. He said the groundhog is the only rodent to have white teeth.

It's also the only animal people count on as a meteorologist. The Big Run Wolf Ranch uses Wilson every year on Groundhog's Day to forecast how long winter will last.

A volunteer helped pass the groundhog around so that the crowd could feel his fuzzy fur.

Observer Libby Feldman, 12, of Sterling thought all the animals were amazing and very nice.

“They seemed different than what people think they really are,” she said.

When Basile showed everyone Lupey the porcupine, he debunked the myth that porcupines can shoot out their quills.

“The biggest threat to a porcupine is himself,” Basile said, because they prick themselves accidentally all the time.

Porcupines love climbing trees, but they often fall off, injuring themselves, he said. Since the average adult porcupine has more than 30,000 quills, that fall can do a lot of damage.

If someone is pricked by a porcupine, it likely won't poison the person because each quill is coated with a natural antibiotic, Basile said. That antibiotic is also an ingredient found in penicillin, he said.

After giving Lupey a cheesy treat for cooperating, Basile brought out the next animal, Pecos the coyote.

Basile said coyotes have the sharpest teeth of any animal on his ranch. He compared the teeth to a razor.

Coyotes are a “clean-up committee” for roadkill, Basile said. In fact, Chicago is using 60 coyotes to get rid of roadkill and rodents from city streets.

If you see a coyote, Basile said to stomp your feet and run toward it to scare it away.

The last animal Basile brought in was the one people were anticipating most to see.

Basile temporarily left the building to get Canuck the wolf, who was waiting outside in a large cage.

When the crowd saw Canuck, a black British Columbian timber wolf with greenish eyes, some people gasped at her large size. Canuck weighs about 90 pounds and stands on all fours near the average person's waist.

“The wolf is the most persecuted, misunderstood animal,” Basile said.

During President Theodore Roosevelt's administration, government workers were paid solely to kill wolves. Some workers would capture a wolf, infect it with a disease, then set it free so that other wolves would be infected and eventually die, Basile said.

“Species of wolf are extinct due to man,” he said.

Basile and his volunteer held Canuck with a metal chain and walked the wolf down the aisle. Canuck even jumped up at a couple of people to lick them.

Tom Bredlau, 6, of Sycamore, said his favorite animal was the wolf. He even brought his own stuffed animal named “Wolfie” to the event.

Wolves regurgitate their food to feed it to their kin because baby wolves eat partially digested food, Basile said.

Wolves also have such a strong sense of smell that they use their noses to identify one another, Basile said.

When Basile packed all of the animals up to leave, 6 year-old Bredlau left too, hugging Wolfie tightly, and never letting him go.

The next event the Midwest Museum of Natural History is offering is the STEM Exploration Lab on March 30, which will showcase science exhibits and interactive demonstrations. Tickets are still on sale for $10 for nonmembers and $8 for members.

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