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Deadly bear attack in New Jersey recalls similar incidents in Alaska

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: July 6, 2016
  • Published December 9, 2014

Officials in New Jersey last week released photos of a bear taken by a hiker just before the animal killed him last fall in a nature preserve in a case eerily similar to those involving hikers found dead in Alaska's Denali and Glacier Bay national parks.

The biggest differences are that the Alaska hikers were alone and killed by grizzly bears, the statistically more aggressive of the two North America bear species. In New Jersey, 22-year-old Darsh Patel was with friends, or at least he started off hiking with friends before they met the black bear that eventually killed him.

Photos from Patel's camera "show the 300-pound black bear approaching the group of hikers in West Milford's Apshawa Preserve on Sept. 21, according to authorities, who released the series of five photographs in response to an Open Public Records Act request filed by NJ Advance Media,'' NJ.com reported.

A Rutgers University student, Patel was with four classmates when they followed a hiking trail into the preserve.

As they were starting out on the trail, they met a man and woman who warned of a black bear behaving strangely. Black bears tend to be timid animals that flee from humans, but this one followed the pair.

Approaching 300-pound bear

"The couple walked away, leaving the group of five to talk about what they were going to do,'' NJ.com reported. "They eventually walked farther into the woods."

Not far into the woods, the five students encountered the bear. They stopped, authorities said, when the animal was about 300 feet away and got out their cameras. The bear continued to approach to within 100 feet as they took photos.

As the bear began to come even closer, NJ.com reported, the students headed back along trail they'd come with the bear following. It closed to within 15 feet.

"When the bear reached that proximity, the group split up running in different directions,'' the website reported.

Authorities on bear behavior say it is usually unwise to run from bears, though there are exceptions to the general rule. None of those exceptions apply to black bears exhibiting predatory behavior. The rule for a group of people confronted by a bear like this is to band together, stand their ground and back the animal down.

There is no record of a bear ever attacking a group of three or more people who held their ground. A grizzly bear in the Talkeetna Mountains north of Anchorage did attack a group of seven students from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in 2011, but that happened only after they scattered and ran, as in the New Jersey case.

While fleeing from the New Jersey bear, "Patel at one point lost his shoe and was last seen climbing a rock formation as he hollered for his friends to continue with the bear right behind him, NJ.com reported. The group of four fled the woods and called 911, according to police records.''

By the time authorities found Patel almost four hours later, he was dead. They shot and killed a bear near his body. Human remains were found in the bear's stomach and esophagus, and human blood and tissue were found underneath its claws, authorities told NJ.com.

Human remains were also found in the stomach of a grizzly bear that killed San Diego hiker Richard White in Denali in 2012. Unlike Patel, he was alone and defenseless against a predatory bear attack.

Like Patel, he took photos of the animal at a distance of about 150 feet. What happened after the last of the photos was taken is unknown. There was no one around to record the events. All authorities have are the photos found in White's camera after he was killed.

Just bones

It was the same for Allan Precup, whose remains were found in Glacier Bay National Monument more than 30 year ago. A 25-year-old resident of Illinois, Precup planned a few days of solo backpacking in the monument.

He went missing for a few days before a group of four backpackers from Seattle were approached by an aggressive grizzly. It came within 10 feet of them, but they were able to fend it off by shouting and throwing rocks.

The four were later met by two others, and the six managed to drive the bear away. Authorities who went to investigate that strange incident and look for Precup found his camp ransacked.

The man himself was dead, though there wasn't much but bones left of him. His camera revealed two photos of a grizzly. Park officials believed it to be the one that killed Precup and stalked the other backpackers, who found safety in numbers.

Why Precup chose to take pictures instead of try to get away remains a mystery. He became the first of more than a dozen people killed by grizzlies in the 49th state since the mid-1970s.

By way of comparison, black bears have killed only two people in Alaska in the same time period.

New Jersey authorities believe Patel to be the first person ever killed by a bear in that state. New Jersey black bears, once pushed to the edge of extinction, have been on the rebound in the Garden State for more than a decade. New Jersey wildlife officials estimate the population now numbers about 2,500.

Contact Craig Medred at craig@alaskadispatch.com

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