Making the rounds in fortean and mainstream circles is the sad tale of a black bear cub (Ursus americanus) being found dead in New York City’s Central Park. Over at The Gray Lady, J. David Goodman reports on the young bear being found under a bush near Central Park’s main loop, partially concealed by an abandoned bicycle.1 The last wild bear seen on Manhattan island was shot in 1630.2
Large critters are no stranger to Central Park, with reports of coyotes3 stalking the park, in addition to rodents of unusual size, feral cats and dogs. The Central Park Conservancy, the NYPD’s Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad, among other interested parties who live and breathe animals are stumped as to how the bear came into the city.
Measuring three feet long, the female specimen is far from being a baby. When born, black bear cubs weigh only 2-3 pounds growing close to 300 pounds (136 kg) and standing 4-6 feet (122-183 cm) tall on average. This bear could have been a year old.
But where did she come from? And I mean location, not explaining what happens when two bears are really fond of each other then share a ‘special hug’.
Theory #1: Eastern Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine recommends using the bile, or entire gall bladder, of black bears to remedy various ailments such as gall stones, liver, heart disease, fever, and eye irritation. With the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) becoming vulnerable, some enterprising criminals are farming black bears to extract their bile. The poor beasts are kept inside crush cages, preventing bears from standing upright or moving altogether facilitating bile extraction for these villains. Maybe Chinatown has a bile bear operation and this critter escaped, only to be hit by a car.
Theory #2: Exotic Pet
With black bears being so common in the Garden State, it’s hard to realize why such a pet would be considered ‘exotic’ in the first place. An exotic pet is a rare or unusual animal kept as a companion by humans not normally considered a typical pet, i.e. dogs, cats, ferrets. There are eight million stories in New York City. This may have been one of ’em.
Long ago, I went on a bar crawl with a friend in New York City and we got horribly lost. I was the soberest one in our group having volunteered to be the designated driver. Our merry band found ourselves at an intersection with no traffic, and no other pedestrians besides us on the street. That’s when a thought crossed my mind, “What if there are visually indistinguishable nexuses around the planet. Places where if one’s truly and hopelessly lost, one can be in all those places at one time, possibly shifting in space to a point hundreds or thousands of miles away?” Fact that the buildings around us were nondescript, brick warehouses that were closed for the day, or long abandoned, fuelled my imagination. Fortunately, one of my friends spotted the World Trade Center4 and we began walking in its general direction in hopes of hopping on the PATH back to Jersey.
What does this have to do with the price of bear bile in China? Maybe, just maybe, the bear was irrevocably lost in the woods having wandered far away from her mom’s neighborhood. Being scared and alone in a forest, panic sets in and every tree will start looking like the last tree leaving one to wander in circles like it’s The Blair Witch Project. There are vanishingly few rustic areas in Central Park, and the bear becoming even more disoriented by the shift, confronted with strange sounds, and New York City’s trademark scent of diesel, ozone, and urine, only compounded the bear’s confused state of mind, driving her to run into traffic.
On the other side of the bridges, New Jersey has one of the densest populations of black bears. Estimates of the black bear population in northwestern New Jersey hover around 3,000.5 Imagining a bear trundling across the George Washington Bridge or sneaking through the Lincoln Tunnel may not be so farfetched. Downside of this theory is “Where are the people who could’ve seen the bear?”
To get a better idea of where the bear came from, I’d recommend taking a DNA sample and comparing it against the DNA of black bears in the tri-state area.6 With the sheer number of black bears in Jersey, it’s open season and I reckon hunters wouldn’t bat an eye over a park ranger taking a DNA sample from their kill. Should there be a match with genetic material, then the poor beast was just lost or trying to make the big time on Broadway. If not, the eastern medicine, exotic pet, or teleportation theory could hold water.
Yes, it was that long ago ↩
New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut ↩