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Chicago – Authorities on Thursday were on the hunt for coyotes in downtown Chicago after police said a 5-year-old boy was bitten in the head by one such animal and a man went to a hospital with a wound he said came from one.

The reported attacks come amid an increase in sightings of coyotes in the nation’s third-largest city in recent days. Neither the boy nor the man suffered life-threatening injuries.

If their wounds were indeed caused by coyotes, it would mark the first time in the state that the animals have attacked humans, according to an expert with the Urban Coyote Research Project, who has studied the animals extensively.

“The last several times that this occurred, people reported the same thing, that they were bitten by a coyote, and days and weeks later it turned out through DNA analysis of the victim’s clothing it was, in fact, dogs and not coyotes,” said Chris Anchor, a wildlife biologist with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, who helped launch the Urban Coyote Research Project in 2000.

At the same time, Stan Gehrt, a wildlife ecology professor at Ohio State who helped launch the project with Anchor, said there have been confirmed minor coyote attacks in other U.S. cities.

And for now, Chicago officials are operating under the assumption that a coyote is to blame for the wounds that both the boy and the man had, said Patrick Mullane, a spokesman for Mayor Lori Lighthfoot’s office.

According to police, the boy was bitten Wednesday while outside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park. Later that day, according to police, a man walked into the emergency room at Northwestern Memorial with a scratch on his behind. He told police a coyote had bitten him.

In recent days, people have reported seeing coyotes outside the hospital as well as near a school. Firefighters also rescued a young coyote from Lake Michigan on Tuesday, Chicago Animal Care and Control said.

The agency’s executive director, Kelley Gandurski, said people may be seeing more coyotes because of cold weather and a lack of food.

Archer has been monitoring the movements of hundreds of coyotes in the region after fitting them with electronic collars. He said the increase in sightings doesn’t mean more coyotes are in Chicago, but could indicate those living in the city have changed their behavior in a way that has made them more visible.

“They are very smart and when they realize there is nothing to fear from humans because they are not trapped, they begin to ignore humans,” he said.

Coyotes are adaptable. In Chicago, they don’t just live in parks and nature preserves, but find nooks and crannies around the city to make their dens, he said. They will eat “whatever is available,” from small mammals and dead birds to fruit and insects, Archer added.

Chicago Animal Care and Control took to social media to remind residents that while coyotes are “generally fearful of people” and not looking for a confrontation, people should not leave pets unattended outside and should do things like secure their garbage.

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