The state of New Jersey has never had a fatal bear attack in the 150 years since officials started keeping records, but that changed in September when a 22-year-old hiker was brutally mauled by a black bear near West Milford. As it turns out, the college student and his friends actually photographed the bear shortly before being attacked, and those photos were released recently by the West Milford Police Department.
“The group began to take photographs of the bear with their cellphones and the bear began walking towards them,” read a report from Lt. Steven Sutton of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, who interviewed the surviving witnesses of the attack. “Once the bear approached within approximately 100 feet, the group began to back away.”
You can see a video of the images below, as well as a 911 call from one of the hikers:
The five hikers included students from Rutgers University, including senior undergraduate Darsh Patel. According to Sutton’s report, they had encountered a man and a woman in the area who warned them of a bear nearby. They eventually found the 300-pound black bear within a heavily forested section of the Apshawa Preserve and began taking pictures of it.
The witnesses described the bear as curious and interested, but did not describe it as overly violent or aggressive. That changed, however, when the animal caught up with them. Hoping to confuse the bear, the hikers decided to scatter in different directions. At some point, one of the witnesses said that Patel had dropped his shoe and was carrying it in his hand. The last time anyone saw him alive was when Patel tried climbing a rock formation. Witnesses said that the 22-year-old may have yelled for the group to continue without him.
Unfortunately for the college senior, that would be his last selfless act. The group found one another and went searching for Patel, eventually informing the authorities of the incident. Officers from the West Milford Police Department found the bear circling Patel’s body in a ravine and behaving aggressively. The bear was put down with two 12 gauge slugs from a shotgun and authorities were able to retrieve Patel’s remains. It was determined afterward that the bear had consumed parts of the hiker, and that the attack was predatory.
Shortly after the incident, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection sent out a warning that predatory bear attacks can occur without warning. In these cases, the bear considers the target as a source of food, unlike other attacks that occur when a person comes too close to a bear and it feels threatened. In those cases, a bear may signal its hostility with huffs or snapping of its jaws. Sometimes the bear will perform bluff charges. None of these signs may occur with a predatory attack.