For the third summer in a row, a black bear has been spotted wandering in northern New Jersey on its hind legs. A new video shows Pedals, as he is known — and whose upright position makes clear that he is a he — calmly strolling like a person in a bear suit through back yards, driveways and shrubbery in the community of Oak Ridge.
The reason for Pedals’s unusual gait is evident in the footage: He has a partially missing right front leg and a wounded left front paw, injuries state wildlife officials said were probably incurred by when a car hit the bear. The injuries make the sight of a bear walking on two legs as sad as it is strangely delightful, and they’ve fueled debate among people about whether Pedals needs human help.
Many observers, both near and far, think he does. Nearly 310,000 people signed a petition last year asking New Jersey officials to capture Pedals — who the petition said “lays down in the middle of the road with exhaustion” — and transfer him to the Orphaned Wildlife Center in Otisville, N.Y. Supporters raised nearly $23,000 to help the center build an enclosure.
“What people don’t realize is that the bear needs help. He’s not healthy,” New Jersey resident Lisa Rose Rublack, who launched the petition, told NJ.com. “He can’t defend himself. What’s going to happen when he wanders into the wrong place?”
But the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife said no then, and it has stuck to that position this year. Pedals has managed to stay nourished in a bear-heavy region, the agency said in a statement last week, and he’s “successfully denned” through two winters or more.
“Division biologists note that, based on the video, the bear is active, appears healthy, a little larger than last year, and is thriving on its own, having adapted to its condition,” the agency said, while also warning people that feeding bears is not allowed. “Therefore, there is no need for intervention at this time. Division staff will continue to monitor the situation, but intercede only if necessary.”
A Facebook account run by people who want the bear to be helped says that they’ve contacted politicians, “major celebrities” and legal groups to drum up high-powered support for relocation, but for now they’re just monitoring the bear. That hasn’t stopped the handwringing among some of Pedals’s fans.
Others have argued that the bear is a hero of sorts — a guy who has overcome the odds and made the best of his situation.
When the first videos of the upright bear were posted online two summers ago, no one was sure whether they were real. NJ.com referred to an “alleged bear walking on its two legs like a human.” Wildlife officials soon confirmed Pedals’s authenticity, and they noted that he’s not the first to walk that way — just the first to do it in a developed area full of cellphone cameras.
In fact, Pedals is only the latest bipedal animal to shoot to stardom. Last year, a video of an upright-walking black bear who’d been rescued from a cramped zoo in Laos went viral. There’s a gorilla at an animal park in the United Kingdom who walks about like a person, probably just because he feels like it. Eight years ago, a two-legged dog named Faith made the front page of The Washington Post.
Those animals all had human helpers, of course. For now, Pedals will need to depend on his wits, imperfect physique and the silent cheers of thousands of followers he doesn’t even know exist.