WESTFIELD, NJ – Talk of a coyote attack on a deer in Scotch Plains ignited on social media Wednesday.

Scotch Plains police confirmed that a resident of Michael Lane called the department Tuesday to report an injured deer, then followed up with a call on Wednesday to say that the deer’s attacker had returned, according to Capt. Ted Conley.

Conley noted that the officers who responded to the call did not see a coyote firsthand, and he was unable to confirm the attack.

Sign Up for E-News

“We don’t know if the supposed coyote came back or if it was feeding off the carcass,” he said.

In the wake of that discovery and coyote sightings in other nearby towns, officials are urging residents to be cautious but not to panic if they see wild animals in their neighborhoods and yards.

“We become concerned as health professionals when you see a wild animal that is not afraid of people or looks sick,” said Megan Avallone, health director for the Westfield Regional Health Department, which serves Cranford, Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside, New Providence, Roselle Park, Summit and Westfield.

Officials underscore that it’s not uncommon to see a coyote, fox or raccoon out in the suburbs in the spring during daylight hours because these animals prefer hunting for food for their newborns then and staying with their young at night to protect them from natural predators on the prowl.

According to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, “adult coyotes range in weight from 20-50 lbs. and exceptionally large ones may be up to 55 lbs.  They prey on rabbits, mice, birds and other small animals, as well as young and weakened deer. They also consume carrion (decaying tissue). They are tolerant of human activities and rapidly adapt to changes in their environment.

“They’re extremely adaptable,” Avallone said.

Avallone offered several tips to reduce the risk of attracting wild animals seeking food for their babies.

“One thing you don’t want to do is feed wild animals,” she said. “You don’t want to leave any kind of food outside.”

Avallone suggests securing trash cans with tightly fitting lids or bungee cords to keep animals out. She encourages pet owners to make sure their dogs and cats are up to date with their rabies vaccines and to register them at the town clerk’s office.

Above all else, professionals warn residents not to approach any wild animal. Residents are asked to call animal control or the police department if they see an animal that appears sick or aggressive.

An animal such as a raccoon may be rabid if it is unsteady and “appears drunk,” said Thomas Dodd, owner of Animal Control Solutions which works for the town of Westfield and other clients statewide. Residents should beware of fawns who are yelling or screaming, as this is a sign that it has been abandoned by its mother.

Dodd also cautions residents to stay away from young animals that seem to be alone because a mother will defend her babies if she senses that they are threatened.

“If you see the pups outside, you may want to bring your pets inside,” he said. “Mom is always nearby.”