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The Mysterious Canids of Forgottonia, Illinois

For whatever reasons, strange and mysterious animals are popping up in expected places around the world. What’s to blame? Climate change? The ever-increasing ubiquity of cameras in public places? A real-life Doctor Moreau unleashing  into the wild genetic hybrids made possible by CRISPR/Cas9?

Let’s go with a likely combination of the first two. Whatever the case may be, sightings of the long-reported anomalous big cat seem to be increasing in recent months, with curious cat-like creatures popping up around the world and generally creeping people out – particularly owners of Chihuahuas, the popular household rodents.

"Y'all got any more of them tiny dogs?"

“Y’all got any more of them tiny dogs?”

It’s not just felines who are in on the cryptid action. Last month, a “mysterious” wolf-like creature made international headlines when pictures of the deceased creature circulated online. The internet lost its collective hyperbolic mind speculating that the animal might be a direwolf, chupacabra, or dog/wolf hybrid, but ultimately DNA tests confirmed what anybody with functioning eyeballs already knew: it was merely a mangy, malnourished wolf.

The appearance of odd canids continues this month as a farmer in Illinois and the state’s Department of Natural Resources begin piecing together the mystery of several wolf-like creatures photographed in a remote region sometimes referred to as “Forgottonia.” Jay Smith says his trail-cams have for years caught snapshots of odd-looking animals which can only be described as wolves or at least very wolf-like. Wolves, however, haven’t been officially verified as living in Illinois for decades.

Welcome to Wolfville, capital of Forgottonia.

That’s how Smith describes the sudden appearance of numerous canid creatures on his property in recent years. The animals remain elusive, only appearing in a few dozen inconclusive trail-cam images Smith has captured since 2013. Numerous wildlife experts and biologists have studied the images, but due to the genetic diversity of wolves and their ability to breed with coyotes, identifying the animals from photographs alone is difficult.

Coywolves

Doug Dufford, a wildlife disease and invasive wildlife manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, has viewed Smith’s photographs and conducted research on his property. Dufford says that whatever the creatures are, they can’t be easily immediately identified:

There was enough difference there (between the specimens and coyotes) that raised the question of what is going on here. It would be easy to discount it offhand. But then again, I learned a long time ago you just never say never. And, enough other people from the scientific side of it have said enough about it that it just warrants additional investigation.

Reports of elusive coyote-wolf hybrids, or “coywolves,” have been increasing in recent years. As humans continue to spread our stink throughout more and more of the formerly natural world, it’s natural that species will adapt and find new ways to survive in a rapidly changing world. After all, life, uh, finds a way. Are these strange canids one more sign that humans are irrevocably changing the world with all of our activity and “progress?”