First posted 1/29/2009 4:52 p.m.

A resident on the south side of town claims she saw a large coyote in her neighborhood, and according to a wildlife expert and local law enforcement, it’s entirely possible the animal has found itself a home nearby.

While Jane Cigir was walking her dog in the area of Ferdinand and Fillmore on Jan. 28, a large animal some 50 feet away caught her eye, said Cigir. Because of the animal’s size she initially judged it to be a wolf, but after speaking with a coyote expert Cigir said she has no doubt it was a coyote.

“He made a beeline down the street. It was like a gazelle,” Cigir said of the animal’s speed. “I was awed.”

Cigir said she saw the animal at night, about 15 minutes after 8.

Steve Stronk has been trapping coyotes for 20 years and was contacted by Cigir. Though he can’t attest to what the Forest Park resident observed, Stronk said it would not be unusual at all for a coyote to be spotted in the suburbs. From where he lives in Crete, Stronk said he gets calls from all over the area; however, he is not familiar with sightings in Forest Park specifically.

“They’re everywhere,” Stronk said.

During the winter months, coyotes are bulkier due to a heavier coat and fat stores that protect them from the cold, he said. Also, this is the time of year for coyotes to be on the move. It’s mating season, said Stronk, so the males are establishing their territories and younger animals are being kicked from the pack.

“Odds are a mate is somewhere around,” Stronk said of coyote sightings in late January.

Forest Park police have not received a glut of calls regarding coyotes, according to Deputy Chief Tom Aftanas, but there’s no shortage of wildlife in the area, he said. The cemeteries and wooded areas along the Des Plaines River tend to be havens for critters, said Aftanas.

Several years ago, while working a patrol shift, Aftanas said he saw a half-dozen coyotes in a cemetery, several of which appeared to be young pups.

“Working midnights, it was like animal kingdom out there,” Aftanas said.

There may be little that law enforcement can do about a coyote that is roaming through the neighborhood, and according to the Chief Jim Ryan, the department did not respond to Cigir’s neighborhood when she contacted them last week. Should the animal become trapped or display aggressive behavior, authorities said they would likely work with animal control agencies to have it removed.

Coyotes are not to be fed, cautioned Stronk, and it’s most probable that if an animal wanders into the area it is because of food. Bird feeders attract a variety of wildlife, which in turn can attract larger predators.

“They’re not here because they like you, they’re here because you’re offering them things,” Stronk said.

He recommended that residents can eliminate a food source by taking down their bird feeders for a month or two.

Attacks on humans are incredibly rare, but pets need to be closely guarded if there is a coyote in the area, said Stronk. Do not let your pet out alone at night and always use a leash. Should you spot a coyote, Stronk would suggest contacting local police so that the sighting can at least be documented. Municipal authorities will determine whether any action needs to be taken.