Bear hunt is starting, and NJ’s famous bipedal bear is still out there
This week, state officials are hoping hunters successfully shoot and kill hundreds of bears. But some residents of Jefferson Township just hope their beloved "Pedals" isn't among them.
Pedals, the bear that became an Internet sensation in 2014 for walking like a human, is a regular in the Morris County community. Residents say he's seen often wandering around suburban streets, docile and calm — but injured. Pedals' front paws are hurt, which is why he spends much of his time on his hind legs.
It's been about two weeks since anyone's seen Pedals, said Sabrina Walsh Pugsley, who started a GoFundMe page to help relocate Pedals to a facility in New York.
Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hanja said the state hasn't had a report of a sighting in a few weeks either. The DEP been reluctant about residents' proposal to relocate Pedals — saying injured bears continued to make their way through the woods and thrive all the time — but has been asking residents to report sightings so it can continue to assess the situation.
"We're presuming he or she is in the woods," Hajna said. "Pedals is presumably doing what a bear does."
And that means he's legally fair game this hunting season — like any other bear in western Morris County, part of one of several hunting zones established by the state. The annual bear hunt is meant to thin out New Jersey's dense bear population and reduce the likelihood of bear-human interactions.
"We just have to have faith in his determination and faith in those out in the woods hunting," Pugsley said. "Obviously Pedals is at a disadvantage due to his disabilities so one would hope that hunters would leave him be."
Puglsey said supporters considered offering a reward for positive sightings this week, but held off because they didn't want to encourage people to wander into hunting areas and put themselves at risk.
Dozens of protesters eager to see state officials help Pedals made their way to Trenton early last month, but even then, the bear hadn't been seen in weeks. About two dozen protesters were outside the State House in Trenton, hoping for a change in the state's hands-off policy — the DEP maintains that so long as Pedals isn't in obvious distress, he's probably better off fending for himself than having the Division of Fish and Wildlife intervene.
The DEP's reluctance isn't the only obstacle those who want to see Pedals moved face. New York officials say they'll only allow Orphan Wildlife Center is only allowed one permit for a special-needs bear, and it already has another.
The DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife is continuing to ask residents who spot Pedals to call 1-877-WARN-DEP (1-877-927-6337) and report sightings. If Pedals is located, biologists will respond to the scene to observe him, the DEP has said. If at that point they observe injuries that may benefit from treatment, he will be brought to a New Jersey-licensed rehabilitation center for care, the DEP said.
And if officials find that Pedals' condition would interfere with his long-term survival, they'll seek a New Jersey-based animal facility, it has said.
"The division understands that many people are concerned about the bear's well-being. However, in the professional judgement of division experts and biologists, wild bears should not live in captivity. Black bears are very adaptable animals," the DEP wrote in a recent statement. "The fact that this bear made it through last year's harsh winter is a strong indicator of its ability to survive without human intervention."