Lonely Planet Writer

Boy scout leader survives bear attack in New Jersey

A boy scout leader in New Jersey was dragged into a cave by a bear last Sunday, but he managed to survive by beating the animal off with a rock hammer.

A US black bear.
A US black bear. Image by US Fish and Wildlife Service / CC BY 2.0

Christopher Petronino (50) was on a hiking trip to the Spit Rock Reservoir with three boy scouts at the time of the attack. He had ventured down a crevice to show the other boys a cave, when a black bear attacked him and pulled him inside.

The bear immediately began attacking his legs and shoulders, scratching them badly. Petronino defended himself by repeatedly hitting the bear with a rock hammer and then pulling his sweater over his face and getting into the foetal position. According to Bob Considine, spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Protection, Petronino then “yelled to the Scouts, who were outside the cave, to leave and go get help.”

The boys from Troop 69 rang authorities on their mobile phones and were told to lure the bear away from Petronino with any food they might have brought with them while help was on its way. The boys placed snacks outside the cave and successfully lured the bear away from Petronino, a move that almost certainly saved his life according to officials.

A back bear family at Alligator River National Wildlife Reserve.
A black bear family at Alligator River National Wildlife Reserve. Image by US Fish and Wildlife Service / CC BY 2.0

Petronino later told the press that he had been visiting that cave for decades and had never once seen a bear. But according to Bob Considine the bear was almost certainly protecting his hibernation location, and for that reason was extra aggressive.

Lieutenant Peter Reilly of Rockaway township police nearby, took the opportunity of the bear attack to highlight the excessive amounts of bears the area has been experiencing and the dangers of going for walks in remote areas: “They were several miles into the woods, far from any road or access point,” Reilly said. “I wouldn’t advise taking people into the woods at this point. There are a lot of bears all over in Rockaway township. There are swimming bears and walking bears.”

New Jersey had only just finished a black bear hunt that ended on Saturday, as part of efforts to control the dangerously high number of black bears in the area.