VINELAND —State and city officials removed a 235-pound bear Friday near Landis Avenue, and Vineland police warn at least one more could be on the loose.
But based on the reaction by hundreds of residents Friday, that is not considered a cause for much concern.
As news spread of a bear in a city tree, hundreds of residents flocked to the site Friday and created an atmosphere more like a block party than fear of the wild animal.
“Is there a bear? Is there really a bear?” asked Millville resident Jon Hanby in disbelief as he joined the crowd Cumberland County residents who visited the scene on Howard Street throughout the day. “I heard news of the bear and couldn’t believe it. I thought they were pulling my leg.”
Vineland police and officials from the state Division of Fish and Wildlife sedated and then secured the 5-foot-6 pound black bear near a home on the street hours later.
Residents had spotted two and possibly three bears in the city late Thursday night. Two bears were first seen Thursday evening at a mobile home park near the 1200 block of North East Boulevard and were picking through garbage cans. Police officers managed to shoo the bears away, but starting early Friday morning, police scanners had numerous reports of bear sightings throughout the city.
At about 10 a.m. Friday, one bear was seen traveling down the road — just off Landis Avenue — and it climbed up a tree. At least eight Vineland police officers spent part of the day making sure the bear stayed in the tree and did not come down until state officials could come to the scene at about 4 p.m.
The state team used a tranquilizer dart to sedate the bear. It fell about 30 feet from the tree into a net and was uninjured, said Kelcey Burguess, Black Bear Project Coordinator for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. The bear was then transported and released at Wharton State Forest in Hammonton.
Resident Mike Alfe was mowing his lawn when several police cars and residents came down the street.
Alfe said an older man with a cane told him the bear had rushed by his leg and brushed against it. Alfe and his neighbors would be joined by hundreds of onlookers throughout the day who were excited about the news of bear loose in the city. Parents brought their small children and pointed out the animal, who was shaded among the leaves and hard to spot.
Alfe’s family supplied water and treats for everyone so they could remain at the scene.
Residents withstood the 100 degree temperatures and many stayed for several hours, taking pictures, updating friends on the bear’s progress through their phones and sharing their favorite bear fun facts. When the bear was finally carried out from the backyard a huge collective “Awwwwwww” could be heard from the crowd as they finally got to see the animal up close.
“It’s not scary,” said Dru Troxler who lives a few blocks away. “It’s more exciting than anything else — just as long as no one gets hurt.”
The few dozen diehards who remained until 6:30 p.m. were allowed to line up and take a picture of the bear as it laid motionless on the truck before it was driven off. Burguess said this was common so the residents could see the bear was alive and would be OK.
“This doesn’t happen in any community very often,” said Norma resident Terry Scaruzzi who came by after work and took several up close photographs.
Even though the people there didn’t seem too concerned about the large wild animal, Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, checked in a few times. He said city officials were concerned with how long it took for the state to respond and the potential public safety hazard the delay caused. Albano said he would speak with the state Department of Environmental Protection about expediting the process since it took so long for the bear to be removed.
“If this is a problem with the state we have to address it,” he said.
Albano asked Burguess what the department needed to respond quicker.
“More money,” he replied.
Burguess said it was a holiday weekend, so a few employees were not available and that it was a special case and required more manpower.
Burguess said three biology students from East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania checked the bear for diseases and to make sure it was healthy. The bear’s side scraped against the roof of the home when it fell but he had no broken bones, Burguess said. The bear was shot with one dart and it took about 15 minutes for him to be sedated, which is normal, he said.
Black bears are typically found in the northern part of the state but sometimes they migrate south, said DEP spokesman Larry Hajna.
“In North Jersey, they follow stream courses and before they know it, they come across some development, and they become disoriented,” Hajna said. “If just given a chance, they do (get out) but sometimes people don’t understand bears and don’t know how to interact.”
And often, Hajna said, media and onlookers will follow the bear up a tree, and that’s when DEP must come in to help out.
“Once it goes up the tree and becomes effectively cornered, then we have to intercede, just to keep the bear safe,” he said. “The bear is not dangerous. It’s really for the bear’s own good.
Burguess said the bears in the state are used to being around people, and they won’t attack unless they feel threatened. But still, it is a good idea for people to avoid the bears and not chase after it, he said.
Staff writer Sarah Watson contributed to this story.
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