$16,000 raised to move bear that walks like human, but NJ won’t allow it
An Oak Ridge resident has raised more than $16,000 to relocate a wounded bear that's been walking around the Jefferson community on its rear legs — but state officials say it's a bad idea and won't give their permission.
The fundraiser, started by Sabrina Walsh Pugsley Oct. 1, passed the $16,000 mark Thursday morning. That brings it into the range Puglsey say the Orphaned Wildlife Center in Otisville, N.Y. needs to care for the bear, whom she's dubbed "Pedals."
"They want to build Pedals a brand new large enclosure including a den," she wrote. "This new enclosure will abut their current bear enclosures so he can see and smell other bears which will help keep him calm during his transition."
But there's one big problem with the idea — it's dependent on permission from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, which doesn't expect to give it.
"While some people who have contacted the division have suggested tranquilizing and relocating the bear, this poses its own risks," the division said in a statement provided to New Jersey 101.5. "Tranquilizing carries the risk that the bear may not recover. Relocation may reduce the survival chances of the bear if it is placed in an area where it must compete with other bears for food."
Fish and Wildlife bear biologists believe the bear is best left alone — but if its health deteriorates, they can respond at that time, the division said.
The black bear became a social media sensation last summer when he was captured on video walking upright. The statement from Fish and Wildlife said its apparently suffered injuries to its front paws.
But the bear seems to be getting by, the division said.
"Based on video footage, interviews with residents, and the fact that the bear survived last winter’s very cold and snowy weather all indicate that the bear has been able to find adequate food sources and go through the course of its normal activities, including denning, without intervention from people," it wrote "This is a much better situation than capturing the bear and making it live in captivity, as many callers have suggested."
Despite the state's position, donations to the fundraiser have continued to pour in. More than a dozen were made Thursday alone.
"He does not have the capability of running from what he may consider a threat, he cannot climb trees as most black bears do," Pugsly wrote on her fundraiser page. "He sticks to our neighborhoods because he cannot compete with the much larger bears in our area or navigate some of the tough mountain terrain."
NJ 101.5 has not yet been able to reach Pugsley or the Orphaned Wildlife Center for comment. But in a Facebook post Wednesday, the center said it was "humbled and deeply moved by the compassion that so many are showing for Pedals," and noted the fundraiser's goal had been reached.
"We don't feel this bear is of good enough weight going into winter, and we don't feel that it is a normal or natural situation for him to be coming into residential communities like this," the center wrote. "It Is not a good situation for Pedals, or for the local community. We continue to hope that the response from F&W will be positive."
Pugsley said the bear is not being fed by residents because doing so could result in serious fines, and could bring danger to the bear — as it might draw other large bears and coyotes into the neighborhood.
NJ 101.5 has not yet been able to reach Pugsley or the Orphaned Wildlife Center for comment.
Louis C. Hochman is digital managing editor for NJ1015.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LouisCHochman.