A coyote that attacked two people this month in Chicago had residents on high alert. Officials say attacks are rare, but coyotes in the city are not.
Scientists estimate there are up to 4,000 coyotes living in the Chicago area. And, in 2016, the city passed an ordinance to create a coyote management plan.
Experts say that coyotes are mostly harmless and skittish, but can be dangerous if they lose a fear of people.
Seth Magle, director of the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute, said hotspots include Graceland Cemetery and Lincoln Park on the North Side and the Columbus Park Golf Course in the Austin neighborhood.
If you’ve never seen a coyote, that’s because Magle says they’re usually afraid of people. They spend their days sleeping in secluded areas and most often come out at night.
“We shouldn’t be trying to approach them”
Urban coyotes travel for miles to track down scarce food sources. They’ll move across the city, but spend time in places like golf courses and cemeteries. To avoid attracting coyotes, Magle said not to leave out food or hand-feed the animals.
Magle’s team uses camera traps to capture images of coyotes and other urban wildlife. The cameras radiate out from downtown, cutting through city neighborhoods, suburbs and into rural areas in Cook, Lake, DuPage and Will counties.
Another research team uses radio collars to track their movements, Magle says.
Coyotes naturally hunt rats, rabbits and Canadian goose eggs, but researchers are observing them now scavenging and digging through the trash, which is upsetting the balance of the ecosystem.
“These urban ecosystems are functioning the way they’re supposed to, and they don’t need us,” he says.
Depending on the scarcity of food, coyotes territories range from two to seven miles.
Occasionally, a lone urban coyote will display odd behavior. In 2007, one strutted into a Quiznos in the Loop and jumped into a drink cooler to ice a wound on its leg.
“We shouldn’t be trying to approach [coyotes]. We shouldn’t be trying to come into physical contact with them,” he said. “It’s worth being very mindful of what we do affecting animals. We should appreciate them, but they’re not pets.”
City officials have taken notice of the coyotes in recent years, passing ordinances to facilitate safer interactions between people and the animals. They believe coyotes have a right to be in the city and help manage pests.
Coyotes have fascinated Chicago Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward, since he worked as a staffer at the Cook County Forest Preserves. His 2016 ordinance established the city’s coyote management plan in response to an abundance of 911 calls over coyote sightings.
“It really tied up a lot of resources,” he said. “Many times the police would respond, and typically by that time the coyote was gone anyway. Even if they did see it, what are they supposed to do?”
The plan was designed to educate the public on how to interact with coyotes. Chicago Animal Care and Control advises people to call 311 if a coyote is being aggressive.
Animal Care and Control Director Kelley Gandurski said in an email that her team posts flyers and speak at community events. This includes advice on hazing, a humane practice of scaring coyotes when they get too close. Gandurski said that if a coyote approaches, yell and spread out your arms and legs to appear bigger.
In light of the Jan. 15 attack, Hopkins proposed a revision to the policy last week that would require animal control to submit all reports of aggressive coyotes to City Council. The attack was the first ever documented in Cook County, and officials said they don’t expect this to happen again.
However, Magle said more needs to be done to educate the public on how to coexist with wildlife, adding that the commotion over the attack was revealing.
“We don’t have a level of ecological literacy about nature in cities,” he said. “The assumption is that there’s not nature in the city that’s worth being aware of or that’s worth understanding, but that’s very untrue.”
Vivian McCall is a news intern at WBEZ.