NEW YORK - A wily coyote led sharpshooters armed with tranquilizer guns on a merry chase through Central Park for two days before it was finally captured Wednesday morning.

At one point, the searchers had it cornered near the park's ice rink, but the clever creature jumped into the water, ducked under a bridge, then scampered through the rink grounds and ran off.

The coyote was captured somewhere north of that area, Parks Department spokesman Ashe Reardon said.

The hunt had been on since Tuesday afternoon when Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, among others, spotted the animal in the southeast corner of the park, not far from the tony Upper East Side. People had reported seeing it in the area since early Sunday.

"It didn't look the least bit worried," Benepe said. "He leaped over the fence and disappeared in the park."

While coyotes don't usually present a threat to people, Benepe warned that park visitors should keep their dogs leashed to protect the pets. He said the captured creature would be taken to an upstate wildlife facility.

The coyote, nicknamed Hal by Parks Department staffers, may have wandered into the city from Westchester County, perhaps swimming across a river, Benepe said. Another coyote found its way to Central Park in 1999 and is now kept in the Queens Zoo.

"It's very unusual to have them in Manhattan," he said. "They have to be particularly adventurous."