The bear bit Christopher Petronino on his shoulders, legs and scalp, according to New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Director Dave Chanda. The wounds were not life threatening and Petronino has already been released from the hospital, Chanda said.
No Boy Scouts were injured in the incident, which occurred at Splitrock Reservoir, about 25 miles west of New York City, but officials said that three Scouts ranging from 12 to 14 years old were hiking with Petronino at the time. None of them, however, followed him down into the cave.
Authorities said the attack began as the scout leader lowered himself the 5 or 6 feet down into the crevice. "The attack happened very fast," said Sean Cianciulli, a conservation officer with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. "The bear probably saw him as a threat and instigated the attack."
Petronino, 50, has been exploring the cave regularly since the 1980s according to CNN affiliate WCBS
, but he had never encountered a bear. Nevertheless, he apparently knew just what he needed to in order to cause the black bear to lose interest in him: After striking the animal with a rock hammer, Petronino pulled his shirt over his head, curled up into the fetal position and played dead.
"Black bears are not aggressive," said Chanda. "Once (Petronino) stopped fighting, the animal stopped feeling threatened (and) ultimately left the den."
Petronino then shouted to the boys to call for help. The Scouts "were probably scared to death," said Chanda, but they kept their composure enough to call 911.
Rescue crews used the GPS coordinates of one of the Scout's cell phones and located them several hours later, officials said in a news release.
Uptick in bear encounters
Less than a day before the attack, New Jersey's annual state-mandated bear hunt ended. The goal was to kill 800 bears. However, about 500 bears were killed in this year's hunting season, WCBS
More human interactions with bears over the years may be triggering the animals' aggression, officials said.
The black bear population has been steadily increasing in the Garden State, according to New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's website
. With its rapid population growth, the mammal has also been expanding its territory and has been sighted in all 21 of the state's counties.
In the past few months, hikers have run into bears several times.
In October, officials briefly closed Ramapo Mountain State Forest after a bear chased eight hikers. And in another incident, a group of hikers said they were chased by a bear but escaped without injuries. Another hiker reported that he had to use pepper spray to defend himself against a bear that repeatedly approached him, according to WCBS