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Brandeis student injured by animal believed to be coyote

Posted by Laura Franzini  December 14, 2012 11:50 AM

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A Brandeis University student was injured on campus early Wednesday by an animal believed to have been a coyote, university and Waltham public safety officials said.

The incident may have been provoked by someone previously feeding the animal, said Waltham Animal Control Officer Deanna Gualtieri.

Based on the female student's description, officials believe the animal was probably a coyote, though by the time Waltham and Brandeis police arrived at the scene, it had run off.

The incident occurred near Ziv Quad, an area of residence halls at Brandeis, around 2 a.m., according to university spokesman Bill Burger.

Immediately afterward, the student returned to her dorm, where she spoke with the school's public safety officers and police. The student, whose name was not released, was treated for scratches and bruises, Gualtieri said.

This was the first time such an incident has been reported at Brandeis, Burger said. The school sent out a public advisory email at 9 p.m. Wednesday, after the student was treated earlier in the day at the school's health center.

The email urged community members to contact the university police to report any sighting of animals that may present a safety concern and encouraged students to use the Escort Safety Service provided by the school for transportation assistance at any time.

Burger said the school would not hold any coyote safety meetings or change its policy concerning potentially threatening wildlife on campus.

"There's no reason to think that it will happen again, but we do want people to be on the lookout," he said.

Coyotes have been seen alone and in packs, or families, around the Waltham, Newton, and Belmont areas recently.

When a coyote encounters a human, nine times out of 10 the animal is going to run away, Gualtieri said.

Gualtieri said it sounded like someone had been feeding the animal involved in the incident, and that the animal was probably trying to initiate feeding when it approached the student.

"If it wanted to attack, there would have been serious damage," Gualtieri said, warning against feeding wild animals.

There have been only five reported coyote bites in Massachusetts in the 50 or 60 years the animal has been in the state, said Laura Conlee, a biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

While it is normal for coyotes to be out in the open alone or in groups during the day or night, the type of behavior that the animal exhibited in this incident indicates that someone had been directly feeding it, either by throwing food to the animal or trying to hand-feed it, previously.

Conlee advised limiting the amount of food, including trash, accessible to animals, and never feeding them.

“The number one thing we tell people is not to feed the animals,” she said. “When people feed wildlife, those animals develop behaviors that aren’t tolerated and so they’re euthanized” when those behaviors become unacceptable, she said.

Conlee said the best thing to do in a wild animal or coyote encounter is to make noise and harass the animal so that it scares off. By clapping your hands, yelling, and slowly backing away from the area, you are showing the animal that it needs to maintain its fear of people. Just walking or running away can initiate a follow response, and has no negative consequences for the animal, she said.

Laura Franzini can be reached at laura.franzini@globe.com.

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