End Illinois’ Persecution of Wildlife Educator; Return Tortured Coyote

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At dawn on April 24, 2019, Tomi Tranchita’s Wildlife Education facility and her home were invaded by armed officers brandishing assault rifles and beating on her doors. These Illinois State agents seized Ms. Tranchita’s four coyotes, needlessly shooting them with tranquilizer guns, and dragged the animals by their throats with pole chokeholds, leading to the death of all but one of her perfectly healthy animals. The brutal handling of the animals was in violation of federal regulations governed by the AWA. What’s more, the raid itself was done on a fraudulently obtained warrant, violating Tranchita’s property rights and her 14th amendment right to due process.

This raid wrongfully shut down Tranchita’s long-established, licensed Wildlife Education Program. Therefore, we ask the State to affirm that Ms. Tranchita has satisfied all state requirements to resume her Education Program and that her surviving ambassador coyote may be returned to her facility.

Raid and excessive use of force led by one officer

The excessive use of force and intimidation was orchestrated by one “peace” officer (“Officer M”) employed by the IDNR State Fish and Game Agency (IDNR). Having recently moved into her neighborhood and hearing a coyote howl, Officer M was determined to seize Tranchita’s animals. He investigated her program and found that she had inadvertently forgotten to renew a $25 state permit. But in applying for a seizure warrant, based on that technicality alone, he neglected to inform the magistrate that Tranchita’s facility has been federally licensed the entire 13 years of its operation.

Fraudulent warrant in hand, Officer M led the violent raid showing no regard for the animals’ well-being. Beautiful, healthy coyotes, all crate-trained, were dragged by their throats, choking and bleeding. When Ms. Tranchita offered to crate the animals for their own safety, Officer M would not allow it, saying he was in a hurry because he was going on vacation. 

The traumatic, brutal handling in this seizure of her four long-established educational coyotes is portrayed on several videos like this one. These animals had never before experienced violence in their lifetimes. 

The brutality continues to outrage more than 40,000 citizens. The stress perpetrated on Ms. Tranchita’s animals resulted in three dying, still with no confirmed explanation. Luna, the last survivor, has been moved three times and was in state custody for five months -- all on the taxpayers’ dime

Officer M also lied to Ms. Tranchita, saying her coyotes would be taken to huge one-acre enclosures. In fact, Ms. Tranchita’s facility is significantly larger than the small enclosures they were moved to. Before he left her property, Officer M told Ms. Tranchita he knew she was upset, and he suggested she call a mental health hotline. 

The IDNR denied Tranchita’s court-ordered visitation for weeks.

The agency still refuses to return any of Ms. Tranchita’s personal property, licenses, and documents Officer M took from her. 

Officer M attempted to instigate neighborhood concerns but failed. By his own admission, no other neighbors had any problem with the coyotes in the 13 years Tranchita operated her facility. Every neighbor, every facility visitor, and every annual federal inspection report for 13 years stated Tranchita took excellent care of the animals; they had no concerns about her facility, or her educational program, which has also had a flawless safety record.   

Indeed, the IDNR has known all along of Tranchita’s facility and her coyotes. They had been to her facility. They had themselves licensed the facility for years. They also knew of her USDA-issued federal license and that she’d held it for 13 years.

Even though this officer is under investigation by the Inspector General’s office for his failure to uphold due process procedures before instigating this raid, as well as his unprofessional and derogatory comments and brash behavior, IDNR proceeded to file charges against Ms. Tranchita instead of firing this rogue officer and apologizing for the damages his actions caused. 

Lengthy legal process over a $25 fee

Months of court hearings followed the seizure, beginning in traffic court. The judges there had no wildlife law experience. Therefore, they deferred to what the IDNR’s attorneys claimed the obtusely complex rules meant. 

So what did the IDNR ultimately conclude Ms. Tranchita was guilty of? The only violation they could charge her with was the lapsed $25 “furbearer” permit -- a document you can simply acquire online from the IDNR agency’s website. Conversely, the USDA-APHIS license requires annual onsite inspections of the facility and the animals, as well as acquiring the same from the veterinarian of record. These requirements, and their costs, are mandated of all licensees annually. A renewal packet is sent to every federal licensee each year prior to their renewal date, while the state IDNR offers no such oversight, not even a renewal reminder.     

Is it unreasonable for a citizen to presume that she is not violating any laws when, for 13 years, her federal government renews its approval to continue operating? Further, is it unreasonable to expect that our federal and state agencies, which both regulate these activities, would communicate with each other?

Clearly, Ms. Tranchita’s missed permit payment was inadvertent; she was not trying to get away without paying a $25 fee (and immediately acquired the permit). Consider the expense and investment: She invested tens of thousands of dollars in her 13-year Wildlife Education Program and facility; and since incorporating the non-releasable coyotes as ambassadors into her program, she has paid all costs and requirements of annual inspections by both state and federal veterinarians and officials. Due to her investment and her dedication, her renewal has always been approved, and she has remained licensed under a USDA-APHIS Federal Class C Exhibitors educational use permit. There has not been a single infraction or complaint in 13 years. The facility exceeds recommended requirements for caging, public safety, and federal AWA animal care standards. And it certainly exceeds the IDNR’s standards.  

This disturbing, unwarranted, and completely unnecessary action was an egregious civil rights violation by the Illinois wildlife agency. The State is blatantly exhibiting a double standard. The IDNR makes many allowances for various captive wildlife purposes and pursuits, and Tranchita’s interests are not unique among them. Selective enforcement is unacceptable.

Wildlife values

Americans’ wildlife values have been shifting for decades. How long must we be forced to wait for our state wildlife agencies to govern accordingly? These agencies do not own our wildlife, we do. They work for us -- for all wildlife and for all people EQUALLY. 

All non-releasable wildlife is required by the State to be euthanized. One of the very few exceptions is the rare availability of a licensed sanctuary or education program willing to accept such animals. Rare, because it is a tremendous undertaking requiring extensive knowledge, expenses and personal sacrifice to meet these animals’ needs for the duration of their lives. 

Tranchita took pride in these animals and found it rewarding to educate the public about coyote biology and behavior, their value to our ecosystem, and methods and solutions for coexisting with them to reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

Tranchita’s animals were not pets

These animals were not house pets. The four non-releasable coyotes were safely held in large enclosures spanning her property. Tranchita’s program is clear about its position on the risks and challenges of responsible, qualified possession. Contrary to the State’s attempt to now repudiate Ms. Tranchita’s program despite its acknowledged approval, her program’s tutelage has fully supported the State’s opposition to keeping coyotes as “pets”. Education program animals are always given names and provided personalized care and attention. That does not define nor classify them as that of a house pet, and it is not a crime. Belittling the value of 13 years invested into such an animal is malicious manipulation of public opinion and of decision-makers unfamiliar with this professional pursuit. 

Ongoing government overreach

Instead of appreciating Tranchita’s assistance toward their own stated mission to educate the public, the IDNR agency continues to waste untold taxpayer dollars mishandling this ordeal -- all over a $25 fee. All they had to do was make a phone call, send a reminder -- such as every state agency does regarding a renewal of a license. Imagine not renewing your vehicle registration; does the state barge into your garage to confiscate and destroy your car? Should any governmental entity get away with raiding a citizen’s domicile and seizing their property, especially upon learning the seizure warrant was fraudulently obtained? Should the IDNR be allowed to protect one rogue employee at the expense of a citizen’s legal program and the lives of her ambassador animals?

It is heavy-handed incidents like this -- when citizens are denied their rights to due process -- that solidifies the public’s distrust of government authority and law enforcement. This display of authoritarian government was and is not acceptable.

We ask that Governor Pritzker advise his appointed IDNR Advisory Board to direct the IDNR agency to review its prejudice in this matter and immediately seek an amicable settlement agreement with Tomi Tranchita. Specifically, we ask that IDNR affirm that Ms. Tranchita has satisfied their requirements and may resume her Wildlife Education Program. Finally, we ask that in so doing, the State will allow Ms. Tranchita to immediately reacquire possession of her last surviving ambassador coyote. 

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Follow these Facebook pages for more info and updates.

https://www.facebook.com/bringlunathecoyotehome/

https://www.facebook.com/happycoyotes/

The post that started the social media outrage:

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10156442958859353&id=789124352&sfnsn=mo

Another petition in this matter, with 32k plus signatures:

https://ladyfreethinker.org/sign-bring-luna-the-rescue-coyote-home-from-distressing-imprisonment/?fbclid=IwAR0Wz_lrQYaWY-_MPGh5clZWcZIqrUoq0W6hD6U8nrrbna247dS38p8nYs4

Here are links to two options for contributing to the expenses and legal fund in this case: Chipping in via Change helps promote the petition. Please click on the links below

https://www.facebook.com/donate/2687929711226109/ 

https://www.gofundme.com/f/let-rescued-coyotes-live-twilight-years-at-home?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=p_lico%2Bupdate&fbclid=IwAR3owqMZzKj5zO3G1E-lh8GrnPzn3z71E6QwZtfJt2ILMw_IDTLv3tN01Ak