Chicago is on high alert for coyotes after two reports of the typically reclusive animals attacking humans, possibly for the first time in the state - and officials may have the culprit.
Preliminary information "strongly" suggests that an injured coyote apprehended Thursday night is behind the rare incidents, a city councilman said. A 6-year-old boy was hospitalized Wednesday with a head wound after his caretaker kicked and screamed to get the animal off the child outside a museum, city authorities said, while a man showed up at another hospital the same day saying a coyote had attacked him from behind.
The aggression and a spate of coyote sightings - one of which sent some schools into lockdown Thursday, according to local news outlets - has raised concerns about an urban fixture that experts say usually poses little threat. Authorities scoured the North Side neighborhood of Lincoln Park for a particular coyote with a limp seen multiple times over the past week and warned residents to watch their small animals amid reported attacks on dogs.
Coyotes have coexisted with city-dwellers for generations, they emphasized, preying mostly on rodents like rats and rabbits. They are protected under Illinois law and animal control personnel generally leave them alone. But the creature believed to have injured the 6-year-old was "not acting like a coyote," said Kelley Gandurski, executive director of Chicago Animal Care and Control.
"It was brazen enough to interact with the child," she told reporters at a Thursday news conference.
Gandurski said the attacks would be Chicago's first on humans in more than decade, while Chris Anchor, a wildlife biologist with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, told the Associated Press it would be unprecedented across Illinois. Anchor cautioned, though, that DNA analysis has revealed that past reports of coyote bites actually involved dogs.
Authorities appear fairly confident that a coyote was behind the museum attack. Gandurski said her agency has yet to confirm the source of the bite that reportedly brought a man to Northwestern Hospital, and Chicago Animal Care and Control has not said whether the animal it tranquilized Thursday is linked to the reported incidents of aggression.
But Alderman Brian Hopkins, who represents Chicago's 2nd Ward, tweeted Friday that the one coyote could be behind all the headlines. Authorities are waiting for confirmation from DNA testing, he said.
If authorities find an animal that seems to have "gotten too comfortable around people," they will "humanely capture" it and consider relocating it, Gandurski said Thursday.
Rabies exposure is unlikely, added Thomas Wake, interim administrator of Cook County Animal and Rabies Control, noting that Cook County has not seen rabies in any animals except bats since 1954.
Once inhabitants of the West Coast, coyotes have spread to urban and suburban spots around North America. In the Chicago metropolitan area alone, Ohio State University researchers found a 20-fold increase in news reports of "human-coyote conflicts" from the 1990s to the mid-2000s.
"Perhaps as a result, homeowners in the Chicago metropolitan area have ranked coyotes as the wildlife species perceived as the greatest threat to human health and safety," the researchers wrote in 2009, even though there were no verified attacks on humans on record. Coyote violence toward pets is rare but often covered in the news in another reflection of "escalating concern from the public," they said.
Stanley Gehrt, one of the paper's authors, told The Washington Post in 2018 that cities and towns should teach people how to live with coyotes rather than attempt to eliminate the wild creatures.
"Their first inclination, at least it used to be, [was] 'We want to get rid of them, so how do we get rid of them?' " he said. "Just to be clear, we're not in the business of protecting coyotes or defending them or anything; we provide the best science that we can. What our science tells us is that you're not going to be very successful at trying to remove them permanently."
Chicago officials are advising residents to be mindful of food sources that could draw coyotes, such as unsecured garbage or pet food left out in a backyard. They're also urging people to keep their small animals on a leash or under watch outdoors.
Those who see a coyote should call 311 rather than approach the animal, Gandurski said Thursday. If a creature gets too close, residents can try the "hazing" tactics used to scare off other predators such as bears, such as yelling and waving their arms.
Wednesday's reported attack on a child unfolded outside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park, she said. It's not clear exactly what led the coyote to leave the grass next to a path to come face-to-face with the boy; the animal might have just been startled, Gandurski said.
Two Good Samaritans helped the boy's caretaker fight the animal off, Gandurski told reporters. She said Thursday that the child is recovering and "in good spirits" at a hospital.
Authorities said there’s no evidence the area’s coyote population has grown in recent years, saying a slight uptick in sightings last year could stem from media coverage or duplicate calls.