Remembering NJ student killed by bear — Don’t make these fatal mistakes
A large and aggressive bear is wanted by authorities in Morris County. Tourne County Park was closed down after a bear approached people on a popular walking trail in a threatening manner. Yellow police tape was seen around the park in Denville and Boonton Township. Signs warned of a dangerous bear.
Morris County Park Police ask that no one enter that park until they’ve determined it to be safe. A bear trap was set up. The park is over 500 acres and features a view of the New York City skyline on clear days from an elevation of almost 900 feet. Plenty of room for a bear to be relocated to a deeper part of the park but it remains to be seen what authorities will do once they capture it.
It’s all eerily reminiscent of a tragedy that occurred in 2014 when a Rutgers University student was mauled to death by a black bear at Apshawa Preserve in West Milford. 22-year-old Darsh Patel was hiking with four friends when they came upon the bear about 100 feet away. They made several mistakes.
The first was not heeding the advice of some people who were leaving the area to turn back because they had seen the bear. The quintet continued anyway.
Then they began taking pictures of the bear once they spotted it. This attracted the bear’s attention.
When they tried walking away the bear followed them. It drew closer and closer until it was only 15 feet away. At that point they all ran, something you never do when faced with a bear.
The five ran in different directions, then later regrouped but only four found each other. Patel was missing. They called police and a search started. Hours later his partially eaten body was found and nearby was his cellphone which had taken those pictures and it had fang marks in it.
So what should you do if you’re ever face to face with a black bear? Black bears have excellent smelling and hearing senses which tend to make them more curious than other bears. This is probably why Patel photographing the bear drew such attention. They’re not as aggressive as brown bears though, but you absolutely do not want to assume it can’t happen. Their loss of habitat and territory to man has made them lose a lot of their natural fear.
If you see a black bear, don’t stick around to take pictures. Go the other way but do it by backing away; never turn your back on a bear. Back away while keeping them in view but without looking directly at them.
If a bear starts following you despite your trying to leave you might need to make yourself look as big as possible. Hold a coat open, stand on tip toes, raise your arms high. Loud noises can scare a bear away. It might be hard to yell menacingly with your heart in your throat but find your inner animal and become it.
Never run. Period. Even if they charge you. I know, I know. How could you not? How could you not instinctively run if it comes running right at you snarling? Here’s the thing. More often than not a bear running at you is doing what’s called a bluff charge. It just wants to test you and scare you. Not actually attack you.
And yes, the problem is if it’s one of the rare times it’s NOT a bluff charge but a real attack, you’ll only know it in the last split second when it doesn’t plant its feet to stop six feet from you. But the thing is, if you run, it’s going to have its prey instinct triggered and will almost surely attack you anyway. You cannot outrun one of these. So there’s never a point in trying.
If a bluff charge happens, stand your ground, continue to not make eye contact, and hope for the best.
Oh and one more thing. Don’t ever climb a tree to safety if a black bear is after you. They are excellent climbers and then you’ve only cornered yourself.
All that being said, the odds of a bear attacking you are still quite remote. So live in awareness but not fear.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski. Any opinions expressed are Jeff Deminski's own.