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Official: DNA test to determine if coyote bit Chicago child

CHICAGO, IL – DNA tests to determine if a coyote captured on Chicago's North Side is the same animal that attacked a 6-year-old boy will take weeks to complete, a city animal control official said Friday.

Jenny Schlueter of the Chicago Animal Care and Control said the coyote that was captured Thursday night will be held at a Chicago-area animal rehabilitation center until the tests are completed. Kelley Gandurski, the agency's executive director, said at a news conference Thursday that the coyote would eventually be relocated outside the city.

The animal was captured after being chased by Chicago police and animal control officers for several blocks. It was shot with a tranquilizer dart and taken in an animal control van to the animal rehabilitation center.

Schlueter said another coyote was spotted in the same part of the city on Thursday night but it eluded capture. Animal control officers continued to search for coyotes in the Lincoln Park neighborhood where a coyote attacked the 6-year-old boy, as well as downtown where a coyote was spotted and a man reported he was also bitten.

Experts say the majority of cases in which people believe they or their pets have been bitten by coyotes turn out to have been attacks by dogs, but Chicago officials remain confident, after talking to witnesses, that the animal that attacked the boy on Wednesday was a coyote. If that is the case, it would be the first confirmed coyote attack on a human in Illinois, according to a wildlife biologist with the Urban Coyote Research Project.

The two reported attacks on Wednesday, several recent coyote sightings and the rescue from Lake Michigan of a young coyote by the fire department's marine unit have focused intense attention on the city's wild coyote population. On Thursday, after a coyote was spotted in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, officials briefly locked down two schools to prevent students from going outside.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters at news conference Friday that she has been impressed with the response by Gandurski's agency and the police department after the attack on the boy.

“We were able to quickly identify the location of the coyote, get him into custody without doing further harm,” she said.

She said she was also particularly impressed with Gandurski's leadership handling of the search for and capture of an alligator in a city lagoon over the summer.

“Never did I think I would be talking about alligators in one breath and then a coyote in the next," she said.

She reiterated what Gandurski and others have said to calm coyote-attack fears: the animals pose little risk to people.

Experts say attacks on humans have been extremely rare in the decades they have lived in the city and typically the animals are so afraid of people that their first instinct is to run away.

“They really thrive in cities by avoiding us, by moving around and eating rats and rabbits and squirrels and not getting in the face of any humans," said Seth Magle, director of the Lincoln Park Zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute. “We know that we live around a large number of coyotes, and almost all of them are never going to create any problems or hazards for anyone.”

But, he and others have said there may be circumstances in which the animals could become more bold. For example, there were reports that the coyote spotted downtown near Northwestern Memorial Hospital was limping, something that experts say might make a coyote change its behavior because it no longer has the speed to capture small animals as it typically might and search for scraps that could put it closer to humans.

Magle said another factor could be the weather.

“It's also the dead of winter, and some of these animals may just be in a desperate situation, where they're really trying to find food,” he said.