In wake of fatal bear attack in New Jersey, how often do humans meet bears?

A Rutgers University student who was killed in an attack by a black bear has prompted questions about how common such attacks are and what the best way is to stay safe in the event of a human-bear confrontation.

Jim Urquhart/Reuters/File
Rutgers University student Darsh Patel was killed by a black bear in what experts say is an extremely rarely attack. Above, a file photo of a black bear.

Last weekend, a Rutgers University student was killed by a black bear while hiking in a wooded area of northern New Jersey. 

Five young men, all from Edison, N.J., were in the Apshawa Preserve when a 300-pound black bear started trailing them. Frightened, the men started to run.

They split up. Four of them returned to find each other. One was missing. His name was Darsh Patel, 22, and he was majoring in information technology and informatics.  

Police were called. Soon, Patel's body was found. Authorities killed the bear with two rifle blasts. 

The bear is being examined at a state lab to understand what prompted it to go after the hikers. Bear attacks are so uncommon that Patel's death was the first recorded fatal attack in New Jersey since before the Civil War. 

"This is a rare occurrence," West Milford Police Chief Timothy Storbeck told the Associated Press. He said the bear calls his department typically receives involve bears breaking into trash cans. 

Experts agree. 

New Jersey has about 2,400 bears in its forest. But Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese said this was the first fatal attack of a bear on a human in New Jersey since the 1850s. A 2010 report on black bears by the New Jersey Fish and Game Council said the last time someone was killed by a black bear in the state was in 1852. 

Still, Mr. Ragonese said the black bear population in the state, particularly in northern New Jersey, has recently "grown out of control," according to The New York Times. New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, now has confirmed bear sightings in all 21 of its counties, according to the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife. 

The state has seen 146 dangerous black bear encounters in the past year, according to a report from the Division of Fish and Wildlife. That's up from 99 in the previous year, a 47 percent increase. 

In 2009, in an attempt to curtail the expanding population, the state instituted a black bear hunting season, which helped lower the total number of bears to between 1,800 and 2,400, the Times reported. 

Between 1900 and 2009, "at least 63 people" were killed by black bears in the wild in North America, according to a 2011 article in The Journal of Wildlife Management. Of those fatal attacks, 86 percent happened between 1960 and 2009. 

In the rare instance humans do come into direct contact with bears, experts offer a few tips to improve chances of survival. First and foremost, avoid feeding the bears. In New Jersey, for example, intentionally feeding bears is illegal and carries a fine of up to $1,000, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. People are also advised to remain calm should they see a black bear passing through a residential area, as it that is not an issue "as long as it is behaving normally and not posing a threat," said Kelcey Burguess, DEP senior wildlife biologist, in a June release. 

Other behaviors to avoid with black bears include not sneaking up on them, playing dead, or running away. (The only time playing dead works, according to ABC News, is in the case of a brown bear who was attacking as a defense.) In the event of a direct confrontation with a bear, make a commotion and appear as big as possible, The Washington Post said, citing experts on the best ways to survive a bear attack. 

The majority of bear attacks in North America involve black or brown bears. Though there have been recorded cases of polar bear attacks, those are exceedingly rare. 

  • Material from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report. 
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to In wake of fatal bear attack in New Jersey, how often do humans meet bears?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today