Police are trying to identify two hikers who may have come upon a group in a northern New Jersey nature preserve before a 299-pound black bear attacked and killed a Rutgers University student who had been hiking with friends over the weekend.
West Milford police believe the two hikers could help with the investigation into Sunday's attack, the state's first deadly bear attack on a human since 1852.
Authorities say 22-year-old Darsh Patel and four friends from Edison were hiking in the Apshawa Preserve on Sunday when they noticed the bear following them. The group scattered and they called police when they realized Patel was missing.
A search team found his body a short time later.
Officials said Patel had bite and claw marks on his body that indicated he'd been attacked by the bear. The bear was found 30 to 40 yards from Patel, circling his body, and euthanized at the scene, officials said. Authorities said it was 4 years old. A necropsy was being conducted on the animal.
The hikers told authorities the bear appeared to be following them; they were all carrying granola bars and water. The number of acorns in the woods where the bear was is far lower than it should be at this time of year, Burguess said. The bear was also stalking the body when police arrived, and Burguess said it's common for black bears to guard their food sources.
Rutgers said in a statement that Patel was a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in information technology and informatics. Patel's family asked for privacy.
Ragonese said there have been no fatal bear attacks in the state in recent history. New Jersey has recorded about one instance a year of bears being aggressive to humans, or in rare cases, swiping or swatting at people, but none of those cases have been deadly, authorities said.
"What happened this week is almost unheard of," said Ragonese.
There are between 2,000 and 3,000 bears in New Jersey during this time of year, Burguess said. About 200 to 300 are killed during an annual hunt in December. West Milford, which is part of the hunt area, has a particularly high number of bears per square mile compared with other counties nationwide.
No hunting is permitted in the nature preserve where Patel was attacked.