Is NJ bear that walks like a human safe in the wild? Officials, neighbors at odds
Staff members of the Orphaned Wildlife Center in New York say it's "kind of shocking" New Jersey won't let them relocate and care for an injured bear that's been walking on two legs around a New Jersey neighborhood for more than a year.
But the NJ Department of Environmental Protection — while stressing it's still reviewing the situation — says so far, the bear seems to be doing OK despite its injured front paws. And relocating the bear could do more harm than good, the DEP said.
"Injured wild animals should be given every opportunity to survive on their own in the wild," DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said. "This bear has survived in the wild for at least one year with its impairment without assistance from people."
The bear in question — nicknamed "Pedals" by its de facto neigbhors in the Oak Ridge, Jefferson community where its spent much of its time — became an Internet sensation last year when it was first captured walking around on two legs. Officials said soon after Pedals was injured — it was avoiding use of its front legs.
And most recently, fearing Pedals won't make it through another winter, Sabrina Walsh Pugsley started a successful fundraiser to collect enough money to have Pedals moved to a specialized enclosure Orphaned Wildlife Center in Otisville. Pedals would have enough room to move around, and could interact with other bears through a fence without being at risk from others in better condition.
Kerry Clair of the Orphaned Wildlife Center said all of the $17,000 raised will be returned to donors if her group and the DEP can't come to terms on relocating Pedals — but she hopes it doesn't come to that.
"For us, it's kind of shocking," she said. "He's underweight, and going into winter, he should be what's considered overweight. He's wandering around people's towns, communities, yards. ... That alone says he needs some kind of intervention. Bears will not normally be in communities like that if they're fine."
Clair worries pedals can't dig his own den, and is only spending so much time in a residential neighborhood because he can't manage to get food elsewhere.
But Hajna told New Jersey 101.5 Thursday Pedals is far from alone in adapting to an injury — during 2014 alone, Wildlife Services Section received reports of 125 injured bears. Many of those animals have a broken legs, he said. They adapt quickly — and this bear is no exception," he said.
"This bear has survived in the wild for at least one year with its impairment without assistance from people," Hajna said.
Clair said her group has recently sent the DEP new photos and videos of the bear, including one in which it lies down in a street repeatedly, seemingly exhausted from walking on its hind legs. Hajna said so far, the DEP hasn't seen anything that suggests it should change course.
"Video footage we've reviewed shows the bear not only walking on its hind legs, but also dropping down on three legs with no difficulty," he said. " In this way, the bear is able to consume quantities of acorns and other natural foods, which are a staple for all bears as they prepare for the winter months. Many bears, in fact, even lie down on the ground while eating acorns. "
For Puglsey, the chance to move the bear is "a win-win" for a state that conducts a yearly bear hunt to keep populations under control. She said it would mean one less bear in New Jersey — and one a community has come to love could get proper care.
"This is not where he should be every day. He can't run from people. He can't get out of the way fast enough for cars. He has zero use of his front paws," she said. "It seems like a no-brainer."
State law prohibits feeding of bears, and advises garbages be secured to keep them from seeking out food in residential neighborhoods. Hajna said that's particularly important in this bear's case.
"If the bear receives no food reward in these areas, it will need to spend more time in forested areas searching for natural foods, which will provide it with the best possible nutrition," he said.
The DEP is asking members of the public who see Pedals to call its hotline at 877-927-6337 while it continues to review the situation.
Just another day in Oak Ridge!
Posted by Michael Deguarde on Sunday, September 27, 2015
Louis C. Hochman is digital managing editor for NJ1015.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LouisCHochman.