Wile E. Coyote’s got nothing on Hal
for National Geographic News
March 23, 2006
After leading dozens of police officers on a two-day chase through New York’s Central Park, the year-old coyote was captured yesterday.
The first sightings of the animalâ€”nicknamed Hal by park workersâ€”came early Sunday, and the hunt began on Tuesday. News helicopters filmed police and park rangers in pursuit.
Before his capture, Hal proved a cunning escape artist, leaping over an 8-foot (2.4-meter) fence, ducking under a bridge, and even scrambling across a skating rink.
Officials chased the coyote on foot and in a helicopter before finally slowing him down with a tranquilizer gun near the Belvedere Castle lookout, close to 79th Street and Central Park West. (See photos of Central Park landmarks.)
Piles of feathers left in his wake suggested the hungry critter had been dining on the park’s ducks and other birds.
“He’s a very adventurous coyote to travel to midtown Manhattan,” New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told reporters.
The tawny-colored, 35-pound (16-kilogram) male will be taken to a wildlife center outside the city, officials said.
Hal is the second coyote to be captured in Central Park. Another coyote was caught there in 1999.
Wildlife experts say, however, that they were not surprised to find a coyote in the heart of the largest city in the United States. They say coyotes have in some places become habituated to humans and human environments.
“There are coyotes in more places than people know,” said Wendy Arjo, a wildlife biologist and coyote expert with the National Wildlife Research Center in Olympia, Washington.
“I guarantee that most people don’t know that coyotes are walking down the streets of Chicago, for example, until their dog or cat goes missing and they wonder what’s going on.”
How Hal found his way into Central Park is not known.
Park officials believe the adventurous critter may have slipped into Manhattan from suburban Westchester County to the north or perhaps crossed the Hudson River via a bridge from New Jersey.
A symbol of the U.S. West, coyotes once lived exclusively in the western Plains states. At the turn of the 20th century they began spreading east.
“They’re a very, very adaptable species,” Arjo said. “They are very flexible in their social system and can hang out as singles, pairs, or form large packs based on food resources.”
“They also don’t have to have huge home ranges but can fit into smaller neighborhoods,” Arjo added.
Wild coyotes first showed up in northern New York State in the late 1930s. They are now found in every U.S. state except Hawaii.
Suburbs in the eastern U.S. are particularly hospitable for coyotes, which do well in habitat where wooded and cleared areas merge. Coyote sightings in suburban Westchester County are common today.
Martin Main, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida in Immokalee, says that coyotes have expanded not only throughout the U.S., but also into Canada and Central America.
“It is apparent that they can make use of relatively small parks and probably even vacant lots that provide sufficient cover for denning and hiding during the day, and then capitalize on a wide range of food sources, including small pets,” he wrote in an email.
“Coyotes will also eat garbage, unattended pet food, and, of course, the usual assortment of rabbits and rats that can be found in urban areas.”
The canines are good swimmers, and they have even colonized offshore islands, such as the Elizabeth Islands of Massachusetts.
Ginger Allen, a University of Florida biologist and a colleague of Main’s, says a coyote was spotted this year on Boca Grande, a southwestern Florida island linked to the mainland by a bridge.
She expects more human-coyote encounters on the U.S. East Coast as the coyote population expands.
“They are opportunistic eaters who will look for whatever food they can find,” Allen said. “Young animals, in particular, will move into new areas in search for food.”
While coyotes are still shy of humans, Allen says, people should take care to avoid the animals.
“You should be wary of any wild animal,” she said. “You should not put your pet food outside, and you should not ever feed any wildlife.”
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