Coyotes and raccoons appearing to have no fear of humans or large animals are growing in numbers across the Chicago area in recent months, prompting warnings from police and wildlife officials.
The latest warning comes from Hammond, Indiana, where police say a resident shared photos of a coyote they say could have a viral disease known as distemper.
"Coyote walked right up to me and my 60lb lab mix with no fear on the trail south of Cabelas,” police said the caption for the photos read. “Those with small dogs should take caution while walking in the area."
The police department also warned dog owners to “use discretion if walking in this area, especially with small dogs.”
“We suggest that you not allow them to run off leash in these areas as it will make it that much easier for them to fall prey to coyotes,” a Facebook post from the department read. “We have also noticed a possible surge in sick raccoons (possibly Canine Distemper) which can be transmitted to dogs and likely to coyotes.”
Distemper is believed to be behind what some have recently referred to as “zombie” raccoons in the Midwest.
Donna Alexander, the administrator for the Cook County Animal and Rabies Control, said last month that the latest necropsy report for 2018 showed 43 percent of raccoons evaluated had distemper, an unusual spike for the county. The highest spike on record in the county came in 2016, when 45 percent of raccoons showed positive for distemper.
"It’s very serious for the raccoon and it’s very serious for the companion animal population as well," Alexander said.
According to wildlife officials, canine distemper is a “highly contagious and often fatal disease caused by a paramyxovirus.” It affects both domestic dogs and wild carnivorous animals, including coyotes, according to the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley. It is most commonly seen in wild animals during the spring and summer months, officials said.
Among the symptoms for the disease are fevers, runny noses and eyes, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, rough fur coats, and more.
“Wild animals with CD appear to act tame or confused and are often found out in the open during the day,” WCSV reports. “They appear disoriented and wander aimlessly. Their sense of fear of humans is lost.”
Last year, police in Hanover Park also reported sightings of "zombie" coyotes, which they say were infected with sarcoptic mange. The department said there was an increase in the disease among urban coyote populations, which makes the normally nocturnal coyotes come out during the day. Infected coyotes will appear “mangy,” often hairless and haggard.
Coyote sightings and even attacks on small dogs were on the rise last fall in suburban Grayslake. So much so, the Grayslake Police Department said it contacted area trappers to help control the growing population.
Still, there hasn’t been a single coyote bite or attack on humans reported in northeastern Illinois, according to Cook County’s urban coyote ecology and management website.
Although coyotes often stay hidden and travel along established routes, Chicago-area police have said the animals will sometimes “venture into more populated areas to obtain food.”
If a resident is concerned that a coyote may be a “nuisance,” officials suggest calling local police, animal control or the Department of Natural Resources.
Meanwhile, Hammond police are telling residents to make sure pets are properly immunized against canine distemper and to avoid contact with any potentially infected animals, including wildlife.
“Take proper sanitation precautions when working with infected animals as canine distemper is highly contagious to other animals,” the post from the Hammond Indiana Police Department read.