Columns

Bad year for injured New Jersey black bear 2016.11.23

By RICH FOLEY

The ongoing saga of a handicapped black bear in New Jersey came to an unhappy end last month when a hunter took advantage of a short open season on bears. Fans of the bear were not amused.

Known as Pedals for his “bipedal” way of walking on his hind legs only, the bruin first came to the public’s attention in 2014 when he was spotted in rural New Jersey, By 2015, he had become an internet sensation, pursued by paparazzi in search of photos.

Often seen around the town of Oak Ridge, sad stories began to emerge about the bear. One woman claimed she had once come across Pedals being “chased by a carload of teenagers.” She added that “I’ve also encountered Pedals lying in the middle of the road at the bottom of a hill, too exhausted to keep walking.”

The reason for his unusual style of wandering was assumed to be the result of a vehicular accident. Pedals was missing his right front paw, and his left front paw dangled at an odd angle as if broken. Videos of Pedals showed he sometimes tried to walk normally, but would spring back to his hind legs as soon as that injured paw touched the ground. Presumably, it was very painful.

By the summer of 2015, Pedals had become quite thin. Not able to compete with other bears in the wild for food, he was often spotted scrounging around garbage cans near Oak Ridge for whatever scraps were available. 

Because of his injuries, Pedals was unable to defend himself by climbing a tree, nor was he able to run from danger. Attempts to obtain help for him were ultimately unsuccessful.

A woman who started a Facebook page about Pedals tried to drum up support for the bruin. Someone else started a GoFundMe page to raise money to have Pedals transferred to the Orphaned Wildlife Center in Otisville, New York. The facility offered to accept Pedals at no charge, but the money raised would allow them to build an environment custom designed to make his life easier. 

 That effort quickly exceeded its goal, ultimately topping over $20,000 in pledges. A petition to encourage New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to direct his wildlife officials to allow the transfer attracted over 300,000 signers. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention I was one of those signers.

Many attempts were made to get the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) involved. A public statement from the DFW asked anyone seeing Pedals to report his whereabouts so wildlife biologists could be sent to assess his condition. That turned out to cause even more controversy. 

Some people said it took the DFW too long to respond to sightings and Pedals had moved on before anyone from the DFW arrived. The DFW stated in November 2015 that there had not been a sighting reported in three weeks and they assumed Pedals was in his natural habitat preparing for winter.

In addition, the DFW claimed they would send Pedals to a New Jersey-licensed facility if needed, but said many bears in the state “have survived collisions and have adapted to life with their injuries.” They also disputed that climbing trees is a needed skill as “many larger and older black bears actually lose their ability or willingness to climb.”

To the surprise of many, Pedals survived the winter of 2015. Probably due to little snow and a great abundance of acorns, when first spotted this year, he actually seemed to have gained weight, giving at least some validity to the DFW’s position. Things were looking up for the bear, until the 2016 bear hunting season.

The Pedals Facebook page reported he was killed and brought to a wildlife check station in Morris County on October 10. Supposedly, a hunter claiming he had been after Pedals for three years had killed him with a crossbow. The information was provided by observers at the station, upset that anyone would hunt an injured bear.

At first, wildlife authorities said they had no way to confirm Pedals’ death, but later released a copy of the check station form confirming the kill. For security reasons, the hunter’s name was not released. That was most likely a good idea. Anyone foolish enough to brag about killing a defenseless animal probably should be protected from himself.