Pedals the bipedal NJ bear hasn’t been seen for weeks; is that a good thing?
Dozens of protesters eager to see state officials help "Pedals" — the injured, bipedal north Jersey bear — made their way to Trenton Tuesday, but Pedals himself hasn't been spotted in weeks.
That's probably a good thing, said Lawrence Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. It may mean Pedals is spending time in the wild, getting food on his own and doing well — rather than walking around Jefferson Township seeking out food from residential neighborhoods.
Hajna said he has no way to be sure, but "it does suggest the bear is doing what the bear does best, and living in the woods."
Hajna didn't call the bear "Pedals" — that's an affectionate nickname given to him by residents who worry that he may not make it through another winter, walking around on his hind legs because he's injured his front paws.
About two dozen of them 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.
"It‘s very disappointing," Sabrina Pugsley from the Oak Ridge section of Jefferson told New Jersey 101.5. "When I did call for help four months ago I didn’t get anywhere and that’s why we’re here today. I’m optimistic. I’ve been optimistic through the whole thing.”
Pugsley is the force behind a fundraiser that's collected $23,000 to have Pedals moved to the Orphaned Wildlife Center in Otisville, New York. The center says it's ready to take Pedals into a special enclosure where he could interact with other bears without any danger, and a petition by fellow Lisa Rose-Rublack (also at the demonstration) seeking the same has received nearly 300,000 signatures.
But New York officials say they'll only allow the center one permit for a special-needs bear, and it already has another. And the DEP is urging residents to report sightings so it can keep collecting information and evaluating the situation, but so far hasn't budged in its conviction letting Pedals be is the right path.
“There are 300,000 signatures (on the petition). It’s been around the world twice. We delivered it to the DEP and we’re going to send a letter into the governor," Rose-Rublack said. "I feel that the State of New Jersey should be the hero and commit to taking Pedals and getting him to sanctuary.:”
Janet Ginest from East Windsor said she thought the petition and activism were "a very cool example of communities coming together and working together.”
“They have a place for Pedals to go. They have the funds. The only thing left to be done is for our government to do the right thing and allow him to be relocated," she said."
Pedals became an Internet sensation last year when it was first captured walking around on two legs.
Those supporting the fundraiser and petition worry not only about the coming winter — but that Pedals will be extra-vulnerable during the state's December bear hunt.
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.
"Reporting information about the location, time of day and frequency of sightings is critically important," it said in a statement.
If Pedals is located, biologists will respond to the scene to observe him, the DEP 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 of officials find that Pedals' condition would interfere with his long-term survival, they'll seek a New Jersey-based animal facility, it 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. "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."
It said it's not critical for the bear to be able to climb, and black bears typically den on the open ground — so he doesn't necessarily need to be able to dig.
The state is reminding residents not to feed Pedals or any other bear, as doing so can cause a bear to become acclimated to and dependent on humans.
— Kevin McArdle contributed to this story