New York wildlife officials on Tuesday said the deceased bear cub found under a Central Park bush was not a victim of animal cruelty, as they had first thought. Instead, it appears as though the cub was killed in a collision with a motor vehicle.
The cub was found on Monday by two women who were taking their dogs for a walk. The small body showed signs of injury. Because bears do not make their homes in Central Park, authorities believe the cub’s body may have been hidden under the bush after being killed somewhere else.
Florence Slatkin was one of the women who discovered the cub. She told the Associated Press that as they were leaving Central Park at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Monday, her friend’s dog was distracted by something on the ground next to a bicycle. As the woman neared the object, they realized that it was a young bear “with its mouth wide open and scratches on the side.” Slatkin also said that the head of the cub was placed on top of one of the bicycle wheels. She and her friend relayed their find to an employee of the Central Park Conservancy. She described the discovery as “terrible” and “strange,” and questions why the bicycle was at the scene of their sad discovery.
Canadian bear expert Dr. Lana Ciarinello told the New York Times that it is “unlikely” the cub simply “got lost and wandered there.” She added that bears will not travel through a city. According to wildlife experts, the cub was a six-month-old female who weighed 44 pounds. Ciarinello believes the fact that the cub is female is also significant, because a female cub would not usually stray far from her mother. On the flip side, male cubs are shooed away from the mother’s usual area in order to avoid the chance of inbreeding.
The last recorded incident involving a bear in Manhattan was hundreds of years ago in 1630 when a wild bear was shot. Residents of New York are prohibited from owning bears and at the time of the discovery, the Central Park Zoo had no bears. Black bear numbers in the area surrounding New York City, most notably in New Jersey, have increased in recent years due to the lack of natural predators in the area.
The Wildlife Health Unit of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation in conjunction with Cornell University performed lab tests on the cub. The results of the tests led to the determination that she had died from blunt trauma as would occur from being hit by a vehicle.
The DEC is actively investigating the case. Should the person responsible for the death and subsequent hiding of the cub in Central Park be located, he would be in violation of Environmental Conservation laws including having, transporting and disposing an untagged bear. The Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad of the police department is also looking into the case to determine whether the cub’s death constitutes animal cruelty. In addition, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is providing “forensic support” to police detectives to aid them in the evaluation of evidence.
By Jennifer Pfalz