A black bear has attacked and killed a New Jersey hiker. On Sunday afternoon, five friends were hiking through the Apshawa Preserve in West Milford. According to reports, the hikers encountered the bear unexpectedly. Although they attempted to escape, the bear managed to attack and kill 22-year-old Darsh Patel.
Although the cause of death was not confirmed, authorities said Patel’s body was covered in bites and claw marks. Wildlife officials said the black bear attack was the first in New Jersey’s recorded history.
The 300-pound black bear was located approximately 90 feet from Patel’s body. Officials estimate the bear was around four years old. As he was not tagged, the bear’s behavior and history are unknown.
Authorities euthanized the bear at the scene. A planned necropsy will confirm whether the animal is responsible for Patel’s death. However, officials said the bear appeared to be “guarding the body,” as though it were a “food source.”
Although black bears are common throughout the nature preserve, they are rarely aggressive. West Milford Police Chief Timothy C. Storbeck said his department receives several reports of bear sightings every week. However, black bears are notoriously docile.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, explains that black bears are timid by nature. Unfortunately, “feeding them or allowing them to get fed” may cause them to become aggressive. If the bears learn to associate humans with food, they may approach them when they are hungry.
New Jersey Animal Protection League Director Angie Matler said black bear attacks are “extremely rare.” As reported by New Jersey On-Line, officials hope the necropsy will provide some clues as to what sparked the attack.
As discussed by Defenders of Wildlife, there are only three species of bears in North America. Black bears are the smallest and most docile. Although they are omnivorous, black bears rarely attack large mammals.
There are an estimated 600,000 black bears throughout North America. However, fewer than 300,000 live in the United States. As they are generally shy, black bears are primarily found in heavily wooded and mountainous regions.
In the last 14 years, the New Jersey Department of Fish & Wildlife has spent more than $20 million on black bear control, education, and management. The department also conducts research to control and monitor the bears’ activity and behavior.
Although black bear attacks are rare, visitors are reminded to remain alert while hiking through the preserve.
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