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Wandering black bear subdued in Burlco

The black bear working his way through Burlington County had become so popular, he had his own Facebook page and Twitter account.

Bear in Burlington County about to get weighed.  Photo: Barb Boyer.
Bear in Burlington County about to get weighed. Photo: Barb Boyer.Read more

The black bear working his way through Burlington County had become so popular, he had his own Facebook page and Twitter account.

He had hundreds of followers on social media, news crews in helicopters chasing him, and a crowd of 100 spectators cheering him on by Thursday, when he climbed a tree in Delran.

There, he was shot with two tranquilizer darts, netted, examined, and relocated to a more hospitable habitat.

His four-hour standoff with police ended peacefully about 10 a.m., and the bear was seen running free in the Pine Barrens during the afternoon.

Officials warned, though, that he may return.

"It does not mean he will not come back," said Kim Tinnes, the wildlife sharpshooter who subdued the bear. "If they get that wanderlust, we can't stop them."

Upon the bear's capture, officials discovered from his ear tag that he was last summer's Vineland bear.

In Cumberland County, he similarly roamed a neighborhood, where he climbed a tree, was tranquilized, and driven to nearby Wharton State Forest.

In Burlington County, the bear had been strolling about for several days, putting on a show for spectators until Thursday's finale, which was not a typical standoff for police.

"I've been here for 25 years and I don't think we've ever had a bear visit our town," said Delran Sgt. Jeffrey Hubbs, who assisted in the capture. "This is pretty uncommon."

Hubbs noted that Delran High School's mascot is a bear.

A resident called Delran police at 5:47 a.m. to report the bear in a backyard. Wildlife officials told police that if the bear climbed a tree, they could prepare to capture it.

The three-year-old bear took refuge 25 feet up in a tree behind a preschool. It's unclear whether the bear was encouraged to climb, but once he was there, an officer stood guard at the base.

Police and firefighters then surrounded the area in the Tenby Chase apartments, just off Route 130, and set up a perimeter to keep spectators back. News helicopters swirled above, trying to capture images.

About 9 a.m., Tinnes hit the bear with the first tranquilizer dart. She shot him a second time at 9:15.

The bear gradually dozed off, and the crowd watched with anticipation as they heard branches breaking.

"Oh, oh, oh," could be heard from the chorus of spectators.

Branch by broken branch, the bear descended.

A circle of police and wildlife officers held a net tight, but still, the six-foot-long, 364-pound bear went to ground, his landing softened by underbrush.

"We were happy to see him dropping little by little so he would not get hurt," said Cindy Wasco, 50, of Riverside, who joined her friend Denise Pfeffer, 59, and Pfeffer's daughter Kristy Canduci, 32, both from Palmyra, to see the unfolding wildlife drama.

The bear lay prone. Officers got closer. They took notice of the ear tag. This was a repeat offender; this was the Vineland bear.

Although Tinnes couldn't be certain, she said the Delran bear also may be the bear seen May 21 in Florence.

She's more certain the Delran bear is the one seen this week in Mount Laurel, Westampton, and Maple Shade. On Tuesday, police photographed a bear swimming in Strawbridge Lake in Moorestown and roaming near Moorestown Mall. On Wednesday, a bear was near the Pennsauken Creek, about three miles from where the one was found Thursday morning.

As is typical, the bear had been sticking close to waterways. Though bears have been spotted in every county in the state, this bear generated considerable attention because he traveled a highly populated stretch.

Wildlife workers were waiting for him to find his way back to the forest or to climb a tree so he could be safely tranquilized and taken to the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in southern Burlington County.

Tinnes said it did not appear the bear, tagged 8082 last year, suffered any injuries in Thursday's fall. Just after 10 a.m., more than 100 spectators cheered as six police officers and two state wildlife officials loaded him into a pickup.

Inevitably in the age of social media, someone had set up a Twitter account (@BlackBearSpoted) and a whimsical Facebook page (daburlcobear) to give the bear voice. By Thursday, he had more than 500 Twitter followers and more than 3,000 Facebook likes.

Crowds gathered at the scene Thursday, many squinting to see the bear through tree leaves.

"Oh, he's so cute," said Elisama Rodrigues, 18, who lives nearby. "I hope they don't do anything to hurt it. He's probably scared. He's probably hungry."

Kelly Schoenholz, 47, said she received a text from her daughter warning that the bear was near their home.

"I feel bad for him," chimed in Amy O'Donnell.

Said Schoenholz: "They need to get him down safely."