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Marsupial Rescued From Illinois River May Need New Home

(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

The wallaroo that roamed the streets of Peru on Wednesday afternoon likely will need a new home.

<--break->Chief Doug Bernabei of the Peru Police Department said a man who recently moved to the LaSalle County area owned the marsupial as a pet.

“He has a permit for certain types of exotic animals,” said Bernabei. “That permit, it does not appear that it is valid to possess our own a wallaroo. Our city code, like most cities, you can’t have exotic animals or pets unless you have the proper licensing or permits.”

Bernabei said authorities will be working with the owner and state agencies to rectify the situation.

“He’s going to have to find a new, appropriate and suitable home,” said Bernabei. “I don’t believe it’s going to be here in the city of Peru or any municipality, for that matter. He probably belongs in a zoo.”

Bernabei said the animal nicknamed “Wally” broke free when the owner took it out for a walk. Wally was on the loose for around two hours before two fishermen rescued him from the Illinois River.

But Bernabei said that rescue would not have happened without some good fortune.

After eluding capture during a two-hour pursuit that halted traffic in parts of the city, the wallaroo eventually tumbled into the chilly water and tried to swim across.

“We knew that was not going to happen,” the chief said. “Wally was getting so tuckered out that it was just a matter of probably a minute or two and he was going to go under. We had fire boats coming, but I didn’t think they’d arrive in time.”

But luckily two fishermen came around the bend onto the scene.

“We spotted them and got their attention,” said Bernabei. “They had no clue what was going on, but they did get over there and we directed them and said, ‘Scoop him up,’ and they scooped him up. One of the fisherman said, ‘Oh, my goodness, it’s not a dog.’”

After the rescue, Wally was quickly taken to the Bridgeview Veterinary Hospital.

“He was hypothermic, he was exhausted, and he was saturated in water,” said Dr. Allison Spayer. “So our first goal was to get him into the office and get him dry, start warming him up and assess whatever injuries he might have.”

Spayer said apart from some abrasions, bruising and swelling, Wally was mostly uninjured. However, she said his temperature was so low it couldn’t be read at first.  

“It took about an hour or so to dry him off,” she said. “We literally had to squeegee out of his fur all of the water. We used blankets and towels and all sorts of things – you name it, we were using it – to try to warm him up.”

As they got Wally warmed up, they gave him fluids and vitamins to aid his recovery. After about an hour or so, he started becoming more alert. He was allowed to return home with his owner, as Spayer felt her facility did not have the ability to keep him.

“I was afraid, I didn’t know if he could get out of our dog kennels.,” she said. “I didn’t feel like that would be an appropriate place for him.”

While the river rescue turned into a close call, Bernabei said it turned out being the best path to a positive outcome.

“He was outside his element; he was obviously afraid, and he didn’t know what to do,” said Bernabei. “So, him going into the river and being able to rescue him turned out to be the best thing, because I don’t know how we would have got him without tranquillizing him, which would have been an absolute last resort.”

And if the tale of a wallaroo running loose in LaSalle County is inspiring any thoughts of adopting your own, think twice.

Becky Spencer, the director of Peoria County Animal Protective Services, said city and county ordinances tightly control who can transport or keep wild animals.

"No person shall own a wild animal. Hospitals and zoos and those who are licensed by federal and state agencies are really the only ones who have that authority," Spencer said.

Within the city of Peoria, wild animals cannot even be brought in without the express permission of PCAPS.

Spencer said wild animals brought into Peoria County without the proper permissions and licensing can - and will - be removed by animal protective services and relocated to a more appropriate environment.

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Copyright 2020 WCBU

Tim Shelley is the Assignment Editor and Digital Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.
Joe Deacon is a correspondent for WGLT. He started working for WGLT in 2019.