<
>

Police chase wily coyote through Central Park

3/23/2006

NEW YORK — He's one tourist city officials hope won't be coming back.

A wily coyote paid a visit to the big city, leading dozens of police officers on foot and in a helicopter on a loping chase through Central Park before being captured Wednesday.

"For a coyote to get to midtown, he has to be a very adventurous coyote," said city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

Officials said the animal may have wandered into the city from suburban Westchester County, or perhaps crossed the Hudson River from New Jersey via a bridge, a railroad trestle or a passing truck.

Officials said the tawny-colored animal, nicknamed Hal by park workers, was about a year old and weighed around 35 pounds.

Hal proved quite adept at avoiding capture, jumping into the water, leaping over an 8-foot fence, ducking under a bridge and scampering through the grounds of a skating rink.

Hal was caught near Belvedere Castle, close to 79th Street and Central Park West, after being shot with a tranquilizer gun at close range by a police officer.

All the while, news helicopters tracked every turn in the chase, and it was broadcast around the country.

While coyotes usually shy away from people, park visitors were warned to keep their pets on their leashes for their own protection.

The animal will be taken to a wildlife center outside the city.

Hal is believed to be only the second coyote ever spotted in Central Park, Benepe said. The last one was seven years ago.

As for why a coyote would venture into the park, Benepe said, "At that age, they're frisky and curious to explore the turf."

It is unclear when Hal arrived in New York, but the first sightings came early Sunday. The hunt began Tuesday afternoon, and at one point authorities said they hit the coyote with a tranquilizer dart, apparently to no effect.

Coyote sightings in Westchester County 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. Several dogs have been snatched from backyards.

Officials worry that as the coyotes settle into a suburban existence, they may lose some of their fear of people.

"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 state.