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A wild life: How a Bloomington animal rescuer became the Local Tarzan

Chase Cavalera, 49, of Bloomington, refers to himself as the Local Tarzan. At 6-foot-3 and long blonde hair, the name fits.
Chase Cavalera, 49, of Bloomington, refers to himself as the Local Tarzan. At 6-foot-3 and long blonde hair, the name fits.

Chase Cavalera wears open-toed, slide-on shoes for a reason.

Cavalera is a wildlife rescue volunteer. Over the past six years, he’s become Bloomington-Normal’s unofficial go-to helper for those who spot an injured squirrel in their backyard, a young rabbit trapped in a chain-link fence, or a pregnant opossum in their dumpster.

And when he gets a call, Cavalera shows up on scene in his slider shoes.

“It keeps my negotiation skills in check. Because if my little piggies are hanging out, and I’ve got a raccoon on the ground, it may want to bite one of my toes off. It keeps my tone and my movements on point,” Cavalera said. “It goes with the whole Tarzan theme anyway.”

Local Tarzan's Compassionate Wildlife Solutions
To save a rabbit stuck in a backyard fence, Chase clipped a small part of the fence to free the animal, who appeared to suffer only minor injuries and was able to run off.

Yes, Cavalera refers to himself as the Local Tarzan. At 6-foot-3 and long blonde hair, the name fits. Cavalera’s clients and animal-rehab partners say he fills an important gap in the community – needs that aren’t met by McLean County Animal Control, commercial trappers, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. (And yes, Cavalera says he plays by the rules. It’s all volunteer, and he says he’s got a nuisance wildlife control permit from IDNR.)

The 49-year-old from Bloomington grew up as an animal lover – constantly finding himself in odd situations with wildlife that might not add up to much for someone else.

Wild animals kept finding him. About 20 years ago, he found a cardinal with a broken wing while riding his bike to first day of work at a Bloomington animal hospital.

“These critters don’t have an owner, or a human friend, to give them assistance. They don’t have the ability to ask. They can’t conceive of going to the vet. I would say they’re voiceless, although most of them have sound sort of noise they make,” Cavalera joked. “As a Darwinist, there’s a limit. Survival of the fittest. But it’s the human problem. We’ve created less and less space for them to inhabit. And some of our toys actually cause the problems that (the animals) get themselves into.”

Saving Our Wildlife group

His animal-rescue work really picked up starting about five years ago, when a Facebook group formed called Saving Our Wildlife in Bloomington- Normal and Surrounding Areas.

“Chase is a get-it-done kind of person,” said Mary Roberds of Lexington, one of the admins of the Facebook group. “He’s almost fearless, which can be scary. But he’s also very smart. And everything he does, he does with skill and forethought.”

Cavalera is pretty much the only person in the group to which members refer rescue situations, Roberds said.

“It’s very needed work. If there was a puppy or a kitten in the street, you’d have all these people and rescues lining up to help. But if it’s a squirrel or a raccoon, what do you do?” Roberds said.

What they do is call or text Cavalera. He documents many of his rescues with a body camera and posts the videos on YouTube.

Chase Cavalera of Bloomington documents his animal rescues on his YouTube channel and his Facebook page, dubbed Local Tarzan's Compassionate Wildlife Solutions.

“I can jump through a manhole and also pull myself back out, or get into certain scenarios where most people are like, ‘No, I’m not going a quarter of a mile under the street for a duckling.’ Yeah, I’ve done some dumb things before.”

Occasionally dumb, but not reckless. Earlier in his animal-rescue career, he’d slip on those shoes and run out to a job as soon as someone called.

“Now, 90% of what I do is education. Talking them through a situation. The fact is, a lot of this stuff is just a misunderstanding of what’s actually going on and what can be done.”

Sometimes, his hands are tied.

“For example, swans. They are non-indigenous to this area. People own ponds and they’ll put swans on a pond to scare off geese. If something happens to the swan, I’m in a real weird position – because it’s not indigenous wildlife, so that’s not really in my purview. No one is claiming the swan, but if it’s sick or injured, what am I doing with it? Because the vets would be like, ‘Hey, that’s somebody’s property. You’ve crossed a line here,’” Cavalera said.

Despite the name, he doesn’t chase animals. He’s not an Uber for animals.

“Ultimately, the best solution is to try and solve things on the scene, in that animal’s environment, with as little contact and harassment from me. If it’s not a serious injury, something that can heal on its own, you’re doing it a disservice by trying to capture it, put it in a box, and throw it in the Tahoe, and drive it all over Central Illinois, and put it in another cage (for rehab),” he said.

Difficult work

Often, intervention isn’t needed. Sometimes it is.

That’s when Cavalera brings injured animals to places like Raccoon Ridge Rehab near Chenoa, where owner Judy Ellinger nurses them back to health.

Ellinger said it’s not easy work. She took in about 90 raccoons this year, and she couldn’t save them all. She hates that part of the job. She and Cavalera talk often about the emotional toll of this work, which leads to burnout for a lot of rehabbers.

“People think this is a fun job. That we just sit and feed cute little babies. No. This time of the year, I’m getting the adults. Yesterday I got one mangled at Interlake, a big factory up in Pontiac. We had to euthanize it. That’s the hard part of this. But you can’t just take the happy moments. You gotta take it all. It’s heartache, a lot of it,” Ellinger said.

"You can’t just take the happy moments. You gotta take it all. It’s heartache, a lot of it."
Judy Ellinger, Raccoon Ridge Rehab

Cavalera recalled the day he caught a baby raccoon that fell a few stories off a building. The raccoon was a little salty and bit him. The save took a dark turn, however, as Cavalera discovered the whole raccoon family had a virus known as distemper. They were dead within a week or two.

Cavalera is an optimist, but he says they’ve all been on the brink of giving up. Cavalera comes home to his girlfriend, but he doesn’t like to unload those stories on her either.

“Embrace the suck,” he said.

Given the work, it’s not a surprise that Cavalera is eccentric. He’s occasionally rubbed people the wrong way, and people like Roberds have leaped to his defense on social media.

“Chase is a different kind of guy. I love him to death,” Ellinger said. “He’s a good kid. His heart is in the right place. Does he piss people off? He sure does. But it goes with the territory sometimes.”

Earlier in life, Cavalera dabbled in private investigations work – which has come in handy for his Tarzan hobby. Today he makes money as a landlord for rental properties in Bloomington-Normal. He and his business partner, Bradley Scott, also run a media production company called Cavalera Evolution Entertainment out of a storefront in downtown Bloomington.

Cavalera’s animal-rescue work is volunteer. He doesn’t charge clients. He sets up a GoFundMe every year, looking to raise $6,000 to offset expenses like gas and equipment.

In a place like Florida, this might be a (dangerous) paying job. Here in Illinois, it’s a hobby. Illinois is actually kind of boring in terms of its breed of wild animals, Cavalera said. Back in October, when he heard a mountain lion was on the loose in Springfield, he got kind of excited.

“Finally, something dangerous!” he said.

Ultimately, wildlife officials tranquilized the cougar on Springfield’s west side after it stopped and appeared to become comfortable in a residential area. It’s now a resident of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Indiana.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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