A Scoutmaster’s bear attack at Split Rock Reservoir in New Jersey lasted for more than an hour after he was bitten multiple times. The Scoutmaster was airlifted to Morristown Memorial Hospital with what authorities described as non-life threatening injuries after entering a cave, according to New Jersey Online.
Scoutmaster Christopher Petronino, 50, of Boonton, was out hiking with three boy scouts when he wanted to show the kids a small Talus cave, which he has visited since the early 1980s, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bob Considine said Sunday night. Petronino told authorities he’s never encountered a bear in this location.
Petronino traveled up to a rocky hillside where there was a low-lying crevasse in the wall that gave entry to the cave, Considine said. He entered the cave, and a bear grabbed his foot and pulled him further into the cave, Considine said.
The Scoutmaster’s bear attack at Split Rock Reservoir in New Jersey started when he was bitten on his leg, right shoulder, and left shoulder. Petronino hit the bear twice in the head with a rock hammer, then pulled his sweatshirt over his head and curled into the fetal position, Considine said.
He yelled to the scouts to leave and get help. The scouts called 9-1-1 with Petronino’s phone, but were unable to answer some of the dispatcher’s questions about the location, keeping Petronino inside the cave with the bear, who continued to “huff” at the Scoutmaster, Considine said.
Petronino then told the scouts to leave any food at the mouth of the cave. The scouts then saw the bear eventually walk out of the cave, and a dog that had accompanied them barked at the bear, Considine said, forcing the bruin to run up a hill and away from the scene.
When the Scoutmaster heard the bear leave the cave, he exited and retrieved his phone and called 9-1-1. The time from the scouts’ first call and Petronino’s was one hour and 20 minutes.
Officials searched by ground and air after the 911 call. Petronino and the boys were found several hours after rescue crews used the GPS coordinates of one of the Scout’s cell phones, officials said in a news release.
The Scout leader was bleeding from his head and other parts of his body after the bear attack. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where his injuries were deemed not life-threatening, and he has since been released.
The bear may have been trying to hibernate, according to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. After the attack, the cave has remained empty. Nonlethal traps have been laid out around the area in hopes of observing the bear.
The attack comes after a black bear hunt in northern New Jersey, a measure meant to keep bears from expanding territory into heavily-populated areas. The bear in Sunday’s attack did not appear to have any ear tags or a collar.
Less than a day before the attack, New Jersey’s annual state-mandated bear hunt ended. The goal was to kill 800 bears.
The black bear population has been steadily increasing in the Garden State, according to New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s website. With its rapid population growth, the mammal has also been expanding its territory and has been sighted in all 21 of the state’s counties.
More human interactions with bears over the years may be triggering the animals’ aggression. In the past few months, hikers have run into bears several times.
In October, officials briefly closed Ramapo Mountain State Forest after a bear chased eight hikers. And in another incident, a group of hikers said they were chased by a bear but escaped without injuries. Another hiker reported that he had to use pepper spray to defend himself against a bear that repeatedly approached him.
The Scoutmaster’s bear attack at Split Rock Reservoir in New Jersey is rare, but Petronino believes the bear recently moved into the cave, because it wasn’t there during his last visit in early December. Hunters killed 510 bears during this year’s hunt, Considine said.