WEST MILFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Rutgers University senior who was hiking with friends in a New Jersey nature preserve was attacked and killed by a nearly 300-pound black bear Sunday.
Five friends from Edison were hiking in the Apshawa Preserve in northern Passaic County when they encountered the bear, West Milford police said. The group became frightened and ran in different directions after the bear began following them, police said.
Hiker Darsh Patel, 22, may have twisted his ankle and fallen, becoming separated from his friends, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
The group noticed Patel was missing once they got to safety and immediately called police.
A search team found Patel’s body, and police said evidence indicated he had been attacked by a bear.
“There was bite marks and claw marks on the body,” West Milford police Chief Tim Storbeck said.
A male bear, approximately 4 years old and 299 pounds, was found about 40 yards away guarding the body and was shot dead by a West Milford police officer, authorities said.
WEB EXTRA: What To Do If You Encounter A Bear
“There was a bear that was circling the area that would not leave the victim,” Storbeck said. “The search and rescue team that had been back there was clapping their hands, trying to make noises … trying to scare it off, but it never really left. It just kept lingering. It kept trying to circle back around. So at that time is when the officer shot.”
“Generally, when a predator has a kill, what they will do — black bears, mountain lions will do the same thing — they’ll safeguard the body,” said Kelcey Burgess with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
The cause for the attack remains unknown. The hikers had granola bars and water with them, but there is no indication they fed the bear, officials said.
State wildlife officials are assisting with the investigation and a necropsy will be performed on the bear, and an autopsy will be performed on Patel.
“The bear has been brought to a state laboratory for a full necropsy to make sure that this is the animal involved in the attack and to determine potential causes for the attack, what may have prompted this bear to be aggressive,” New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese said.
The bear had never been tagged by researchers, so there’s no record of its travels or background.
In a statement, the mayor of West Milford said the entire circumstances of the deadly encounter will be reviewed.
Patel was a senior at Rutgers University’s School of Arts and Sciences, majoring in information technology and informatics.
“As we grieve over his tragic passing, please know that our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones and to all his friends and fellow students at Rutgers,” university Chancellor Richard L. Edwards said in a statement.
The Apshawa Preserve is a 576-acre natural area used for hiking and bird-watching.
Signs at the preserve parking lot mention nothing about potential bear encounters, but residents in the heavily wooded corner of Passaic County said bear sightings are common in the area, especially in spring, summer and fall.
There are perhaps as many as 2,400 black bears living in the wild in northern New Jersey.
Many residents were shocked to hear of the fatal attack.
“Probably two, three times a week you’ll see them sometimes,” Bloomingdale resident Harvey Miller told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. “I was kind of scared about it.”
“We see them in our neighborhoods all the time, and there’s never been any aggression towards anybody ever,” said parkgoer John Davidson. “Everyone was shocked because this has never happened.”
“I don’t feel safe at all,” one hiker told 1010 WINS’ Rebecca Granet. “I’m sure there’s bears in all the woods on all the trails, but we haven’t encountered anything like this before.”
“I avoid them, and they’re usually very skittish. As soon as they see a human, they’re gone. They’re very fast, run probably 35 miles per hour, very fast,” said county resident Ed Smith.
This appears to be the first-ever instance of a black bear killing a person in New Jersey.
“What happened this week is not a typical event,” Ragonese said. “There have been no previous fatal attacks by bears in New Jersey in recent history.”
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, many were shocked by the attack.
“The whole idea that a bear attacked somebody and killed them in this area is very strange to me,” Joy Small said.
In 2002, a black bear killed a baby girl from Brooklyn. The child was snatched from a stroller at a resort colony in the Catskills while her mother led other children to safety.
On Monday night, a long planned meeting about bears took on new urgency at the West Milford Municipal Building. A wildlife expert told residents to keep things in perspective.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection offered some tips on what to do if you encounter a black bear:
• Make noise
• Look as big as possible
• Slowly back away
• Avoid direct eye contact
• Do not run.
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