(CBS) – Cook County authorities aren’t sure if coyotes were to blame for a recent animal-related attack on a boy in the city’s South Austin neighborhood.
The incident happened about two weeks ago near Columbus Park on the city’s Far West Side, a spokesman for the Cook County Animal and Rabies Control department says.
The department received a report that a male juvenile was bitten by a German shepherd, but coyotes had been seen in the area around that time, department spokesman Frank Shuftan says.
County authorities rounded up four coyotes that had established a habitat in the area. The animals tested negative for rabies and were euthanized, Shuftan says.
Family members identified the young victim as Emeil Hawkins. They say he may have been offering human food to the animal that attacked him.
Neighbors say they see coyotes, but the animals typically keep their distance.
“My girlfriend and I, we walk all the time with her dog, and they’re normally at a distance,” resident Shara Cephes tells reporters.
Cornell University Professor Paul Curtis, one of the country’s top coyote researchers, tells WBBM Newsradio that coyote attacks on humans are very rare. He says he can count on one hand the number of such incidents over the past decade.
Curtis says attacks usually happen because the coyote has rabies or is very hungry. An incident several years ago involved a small child in New Jersey who was playing near a wooded area. The coyote thought he was food and bit the child on the head and neck, but the boy survived.
A study of Chicago coyotes — involving numerous coyotes that have been fitted with radio collars — shows the animals here are very well fed, thanks to the rat population, Curtis says.
He says people should never feed coyotes or approach one of the animals. He says people should do everything they can to scare off coyotes if they become comfortable around residential.