Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wily Coyote Captured in Central Park

A wily coyote led sharpshooters armed with tranquilizer guns on a merry chase through New York's Central Park before being captured, Wednesday, March 22, 2006. The hunt had been on since Tuesday afternoon when Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, among others, spotted the animal in the southeast corner of the park, not far from the tony Upper East Side. (AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh)


A wily coyote led sharpshooters armed with tranquilizer guns on a wild chase through Central Park before being captured Wednesday. The coyote proved to be quite adept at avoiding capture, jumping into the water, ducking under a bridge, and scampering through the grounds of an ice skating rink after authorities thought they had the varmint cornered Wednesday morning.

The coyote, a male believed to be about a year old, was caught near Belvedere Castle, close to 79th Street and Central Park West, around 10 a.m. All the while, news helicopters hovering overhead tracked every turn in the chase, and it was broadcast around the country.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said a NYPD police officer shot the coyote with a tranquilizer gun at close range.

The hunt began Tuesday afternoon when Benepe, among others, spotted the animal in the southeast corner of Central Park, not far from the tony Upper East Side before he leaped over a fence and disappeared. It's unclear when the coyote, nicknamed Hal by parks workers, first arrived in the big city, but the first sightings of the animal came early Sunday.

Hal is only the second coyote ever to be spotted in Central Park, Benepe said, the last being seven years ago. Interestingly, Benepe said both coyotes strayed into the same area, the Hallett Wildlife Sanctuary. "It's an area closed to people and dogs, so it's a good place for a coyote to hunt for birds," he said.

While coyotes don't usually present a threat to people, Benepe had warned that park visitors should keep their dogs leashed to protect the pets.

Officials said one of their tranquilizers had managed to hit the coyote Tuesday, but that it appeared to have no effect.

The coyote may have wandered into the city from Westchester County, or perhaps swimming across the Hudson River from New Jersey, Benepe said.

Asked to speculate why a coyote would venture into Central Park, Benepe said, "It's an immature young coyote ... at that age they're frisky and curious to explore the turf." "It takes quite an adventurous coyote," Benepe said. "You either have to swim or cross a railroad trestle used by Metro-North and Amtrak that runs along the Hudson under the George Washington Bridge and then goes through a very wooded area." "They are very good swimmers," he added.

"He's recovering," said Benepe, who visited the coyote after his capture. He said the animal would be taken to an upstate wildlife facility "as soon as he is ready to be transferred." Coyote sightings in urban areas are nothing new, but the critters rarely venture into the concrete jungle of New York City.

The coyote that found its way to Central Park in 1999 is now kept in the Queens Zoo. "It's very unusual to have them in Manhattan," Benepe said. "They have to be particularly adventurous." In Westchester County, coyote sightings have increased rapidly since the 1970s.

In 1997, 15 sightings were noted, but many encounters are no longer even reported -- unless they involve the loss of a pet. The animals generally shy away from people and no attacks on humans have been recorded, but several pet dogs have been snatched from back yards by the predators.

Officials fear that as the coyotes settle into a suburban existence they may lose some fear of people. The state and Cornell University are planning a five-year study that will include attempts to trap and tranquilize coyotes in four Westchester towns.

"We used to say, 'No, you don't have to be worried.' We're not saying that anymore," said Gordon Batcheller, a biologist with the sate Department of Environmental Conservation.

  • Associated Press

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