NEW YORK – He's one tourist city officials hope WON'T be coming back.
A wily young coyote made the most of his visit to the Big Apple, at one point leaping over an 8-foot fence as he led dozens of police officers on foot and in a helicopter on a merry chase in Central Park before being captured Wednesday.
"For a coyote to get to midtown, he has to be a very adventurous coyote," said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.
Officials said the tawny-colored animal, nicknamed Hal by park workers, was about a year old and weighed about 35 pounds.
Hal proved to be quite adept at avoiding capture, jumping into the water, ducking under a bridge, and scampering through the grounds of an ice skating rink after authorities thought they had him cornered Wednesday morning.
Hal was caught near Belvedere Castle, close to 79th Street and Central Park West, around 10 a.m. All the while, news helicopters hovering overhead tracked every turn in the chase, and it was broadcast around the country.
Benepe said a NYPD officer shot the animal with a tranquilizer gun at close range.
The hunt began Tuesday afternoon when Benepe, among others, spotted the animal in the southeast corner of Central Park, near glitzy Fifth Avenue, before he leaped over a fence and disappeared. Authorities said he had been hit by a tranquilizer dart, apparently to no effect.
It's unclear when Hal first arrived in the big city, but the first sightings of the animal came early Sunday.
Hal is only the second coyote ever to be spotted in Central Park, Benepe said, the last being seven years ago.
Interestingly, Benepe said both coyotes strayed into the same area, the Hallett Wildlife Sanctuary.
"It's an area closed to people and dogs, so it's a good place for a coyote to hunt for birds," he said.
While coyotes don't usually present a threat to people, Benepe had warned that park visitors should keep their dogs leashed to protect the pets.
The coyote may have wandered into the city from Westchester County, or perhaps come across the Hudson River from New Jersey, Benepe said.
Asked to speculate why a coyote would venture into Central Park, Benepe said, "It's an immature young coyote ... at that age they're frisky and curious to explore the turf."
It's not the simplest of journeys, either, Benepe said. "You either have to swim or cross a railroad trestle used by Metro-North and Amtrak that runs along the Hudson under the George Washington Bridge and then goes through a very wooded area."
Hal was recovering from his capture, Benepe said, who paid him a visit. He said the animal would be taken to an upstate wildlife facility "as soon as he is ready to be transferred."
Coyote sightings in urban areas are nothing new, but the creatures don't usually venture into the concrete jungle of New York City. The coyote that found its way to Central Park in 1999 is now kept in the Queens Zoo.
"It's very unusual to have them in Manhattan," Benepe said.
But he said it probably wouldn't be the last time, as wild animals of all kinds are increasingly seen in developed areas. He said the department would think about working with the city Department of Health to develop a protocol.
In suburban Westchester County, coyote sightings 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.
The animals generally shy away from people and no attacks on humans have been recorded, but several pet dogs have been snatched from back yards by the predators.
Officials fear that as the coyotes settle into a suburban existence they may lose some fear of people. The state and Cornell University are planning a five-year study that will include attempts to trap and tranquilize coyotes in four Westchester towns.
"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 Department of Environmental Conservation.