Discover Chicago's Version of Pablo Escobar's Wild Hippos

Pablo Escobar’s hippos running amuck in the Amazon made the news this week, foundinwoodsbut while the hippos may be amusing, they bring a bigger issue to the spotlight: invasive species. In recent years, other invasive species have made news in and around Chicago. Two that come to mind are the emerald ash borers that have been destroying our trees and the Asian Carp that are over taking the waterways. However, did you know that one of the area’s most popular forest preserves is also home to an invasive species of deer?

The Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve that is managed by the Dupage County Forest Preserve district surrounds the Argonne Laboratory, and the secretive nature of the lab has led to many rumors over the years about Frankenstein-style experiments on the local flora and fauna. While Argonne can trace its roots to radioactive experiments (which I will cover in an upcoming blog post), the white deer that have been spotted in the forest around the lab for generations are not the result of an escaped experiment.

Instead, the deer share a back story very similar to Pablo’s hippos. In the 1930’s a wealthy Chicago businessman purchased a large tract of land near where the forest preserve now stands. This tract of land became his summer home, and he named his estate Tulgey Woods, inspired by Alice in Wonderland. He also had wooden figures carved to resemble characters from the book and he imported a herd of seven fallow deer from Asia. These fallow deer are a ghostly white color, which helped the rumors of Argonne experimentation spread.

The fallow deer do not interbreed with the white tail deer native to the area, but given time and a habitat relatively free from predators, the fallow deer slowly became the dominant species spotted around Waterfall Glen. As a child, I remember seeing large herds of the white deer so frequently that seeing a normal, native brown deer became quite an event.

At any rate, in the mid 90’s both the fallow and white tail deer herds in the forest preserve became drastically overpopulated and the herds needed to be culled. Since they have been culled, they have not be reproducing as quickly as in the past and it is now more common to see white tailed deer in the area than it is to see the white fallow deer. There are believed to still be around 40-50 fallow deer in the preserve but they are now a rare site on the roadsides.

Another interesting note about Waterfall Glen- the DFP has reported that there is likely a bobcat living within the forest. They have found droppings that appear to be from the species. I have not seen any reports of actual sightings, but it is interesting to know what might be lurking in the trees or shadows.

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