On Wednesday, NJ wildlife officials said they planned to let a black bear that was roaming about Burlington County alone. But early Thursday morning, he was laying in a net, face-down, after having been tranquilized with a dart gun. He was spotted in a backyard just a few hundred yards from a Delran nursery school.
Over the past week, witnesses reported seeing the bear swimming in Strawbridge Lake in Moorestown, eating seeds from bird feeders, and roaming through parts of Mount Laurel, Moorestown, Maple Shade, Westampton and Florence. They estimated he was 4-foot-tall and weighed about 400 pounds.
They weren't far off. Once captured and sedated, the bear was weighed and measured. He was 360 pounds - and 6-foot-tall. Even more surprising, he had a tag in his ear that showed he was the same bear that was roaming about Vineland a year ago. At that time, he was also captured and relocated.
This time, the bear is being set free in Shamong, a community that dips into the Pinelands in the northeast region of Burlington County.
Wildlife officials initially hoped that he would just pass through the county and find his way to a woods during his search for new territory. He would be trapped and moved away only if he exhibited aggressive behavior, they said.
But when Delran police received a call Thursday morning from residents who said a bear was in standing in their backyard, in a very populated area, close to the busy Route 130 and the KinderCare nursery school, wildlife officials changed their mind. They recommended the police go there and try to shoo him up a tree. Then, they shot him with darts to make him drowsy and they caught him in a net when he fell to the ground.
As he lay sleeping on a tarp, waiting to be put into a truck to be relocated, he actually looked tame. And cute. His chest had a fluffy tuft of white. Spectators oohed and ahhed. They cheered when police lifted him and safely put him into the truck.
The bear had never become menacing. But he made one mistake. He waded too deep into suburbia where he may have either been hit in traffic or where he may have come up upon a child. He's being returned to the woods for everyone's safety, including his. But who knows if he'll stay there.