Scoutmaster Bear Attack
A Scoutmaster fought off a black bear with a rock hammer after it mauled him in a cave on Sunday afternoon, officials said.
According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection scoutmaster Christopher Petronino was hiking with three Scouts when they stopped near the Split Rock reservoir.
As reported by NBC, after the 50-year-old entered the cave “a black bear grabbed his foot and pulled him further” inside.
“The bear then bit the victim’s leg, his right shoulder and then his left shoulder,” the DEP’s statement said.
Grabbing his rock hammer, the Scout leader struck the beast twice in the head, before pulling his sweatshirt off over his head and curling into the fetal position.
Outside the cave, the Scouts called 911 on Petronino’s cellphone but they were unable to give the dispatcher specific information about their location.
Petronino said he could hear the bear “huffing” as he kept his back to the animal and yelled at the boys to take out any food they had and leave it at the mouth of the cave.
After “a substantial amount of time,” the bear lumbered out and after one of the Scout’s dogs barked and snarled at it, it ran up the hillside, reports CNN.
As soon as he heard the bear leave the cave, Petronino followed it outside and used the cellphone to provide police with a better description of their location.
Officials told NBC New York that an estimated 80 minutes elapsed between the Scout’s 911 call and his.
Area police firefighters and a state police helicopter had been searching for the Scouts and were able to locate them using the GPS coordinates of the cellphone. Petronino was later airlifted to a hospital.
His father Michael Petronino told NBC News early Monday that the Scoutmaster was in “bad shape” and would have to undergo several hours of surgery.
The attack occurred a day after the end of the state’s extended bear hunting season.
Rockaway Township Mayor Michael Dachisen, however, said the area is known for having a visible bear population.
“I’ve been going through there my entire life,” Dachsen said. “Everyone knows it is bear country. Attack is kind of a harsh word. Was he defending his area or what? It seems it was more of a defense than an attack.”
“We are concerned about the Cub Scout leader and what has happened and we hope he will fully recover. We need to look at what happened in context of the DEP bear management plan,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club and a longtime opponent of the annual New Jersey bear hunt. “The DEP has said that the hunt is needed because of nuisance bears and a day after the hunt ended, we had an encounter. This shows us that their bear management plan is not working. We are not educating people on what to do in bear country. Individuals and hiking groups in bear country need to stay on trails, not have food with them and stay away from caves or dens. These are the things having a real education program would teach people to make them safer. Having warning signs and education materials posted at trail heads would also help.”
Scoutmaster Bear Attack Was Rare
According to the Daily Record, bear attacks on humans are extremely rare in New Jersey, but the first documented bear fatality — a 22-year-old man — occurred on Sept. 14, 2014 in West Milford.
The black bear population in the state was estimated at 3,500 prior to the recent annual state bear hunt, which was extended this year by an unprecedented four days that concluded Saturday. The 10-day hunt ended with 510 kills.
“We just killed 510 bears and we had an incident the day after the hunt ended,” Tittel said. “Clearly, the hunt did not work. The state needs to put in place a real bear-management plan to protect our citizens instead of just continuing expanding the ineffective hunt. Bears are usually docile and are more afraid of people than we are of them. Bears are wild animals and need to be respected. Most bears avoid people, but bears that have been feed or exposed to food from humans then see people as a source of food and become aggressive. Bears don’t become aggressive that day, it happens over time because they have been fed by humans.”
“The good thing is that the kids and their scout master are safe, and will be home for Christmas,” Dachisen said.