For more than two years, a bipedal bear nicknamed Pedals fascinated residents of a largely rural section of northern New Jersey.
With two maimed front legs, the American black bear moved around almost entirely upright. He resembled a man in a bear costume, ambling through the neighborhoods of Oak Ridge on his way to Internet stardom.
Pedals had his own Facebook fan page. An online petition calling on state wildlife officials to capture the bear and place him at a sanctuary collected nearly 312,000 signatures from around the world. An unsuccessful GoFundMe campaign to fund his relocation raised more than $22,000.
Pedal’s legion of supporters, however, lament that he apparently was killed by an archer’s arrow Monday.
It was the first day of New Jersey’s bow hunt for black bears.
“PEDALS IS DEAD,” said a post Friday on the Pedals The Injured Bipedal Bear Facebook page.
The state Department of Environmental Protection, which administers the bear hunt, said Pedals’ death could not be confirmed.
“I don’t think (we’ll) ever know because really we don’t have the scientific information on the front end to be able to conclusively determine the identity of any bear that isn’t tagged,” Robert Geist, a department spokesman, told CNN affiliate WPIX-TV.
Lisa Rose-Rublack, an activist who led the petition drive, told CNN that people who were present when the dead bear was delivered to the Green Pond check station Monday told her the hunter boasted about the kill.
“They told us everyone gathered around the truck,” she said. “The state biologists confirmed it was Pedals and they all took pictures and the guy was bragging about trying to get Pedals for three years.”
The state Division of Fish & Wildlife said in a statement that while it “appreciates the concern for the bear, it has no way of verifying the identity of any bear that has not been previously tagged or had a DNA sample previously taken.”
“During this current bear hunt period, and in previous bear seasons, there have been multiple bears observed at different check stations with injured or missing limbs,” the statement continued.
“Upon arrival to check stations, bears are weighed and measured around the head. DNA samples are taken and a tooth is extracted to determine the bear’s age. But without any prior scientific data taken from a bear, it is not possible to verify the identity of a bear that has been harvested.”
Division spokesman Bob Considine said via email Saturday that a dead bear with injured limbs was taken to the Green Pond station earlier in the week.
“Our biologists took a few pictures of it, as they do on occasion when an injured bear is brought in,” he said. “We plan on releasing them to whoever wants them early next week.”
Rose-Rublack and others say they’re sure Pedals was killed.
“It’s kind of sad,” she said. “We believe that Pedals is gone and we’re going to move forward. It’ll come out in the wash. I’m pretty sure.”
The statement on the Pedals Facebook page asked people to contact various officials from the state DEP commissioner to Gov. Chris Christie with complaints.
“This can not be fixed but perhaps we can make a change to how wildlife is treated in this state,” the statement said.
The post added, “The hunter who has wanted him dead for nearly 3 years had the satisfaction of putting an arrow through him, bragging at the station. … The NJDEP and F&W really don’t have a heart. They let this happen. They could have been the good guys by helping him to get to sanctuary. Instead they did nothing.”
Considine declined to comment on the post.
New Jersey has been struggling with a growing bear population. Black bears have been seen in all of the state’s 21 counties. But encounters with humans, as well as attacks, are unusual, officials have said.
In 2014, a 22-year-old Rutgers University student was mauled to death by a 300-pound black bear as he hiked with friends in a wooded area in West Milford, New Jersey.
Rose-Rublack said part of Pedals’ appeal was that he resembled a man in a bear suit.
“Everybody was like, what the heck,” she said. “It just went around the world and once it took off, it was crazy. People were coming to look for Pedals and the neighborhood kids were throwing rocks at him. … We had videos of people being not so nice to him. The poor bear just needed to get out of there.”
She believes Pedals’ popularity made him a target among some hunters.
“I had to go to the bar and have a couple of drinks to celebrate his life,” she said.