A hibernating bear attacked a Boy Scout leader as he entered a New Jersey cave during a hike with his troop, officials said.
Christopher Petronino, 50, was mauled by a black bear as he entered a cave at Split Rock Reservoir on Sunday. The attack surprised Petronino, who had reportedly visited the cave numerous times since the 1980s without ever before encountering a bear.
The bear grabbed Petronino’s foot and pulled him into the cave, biting his leg and shoulders as he tried to fight back. He yelled to the three young scouts on the hike to get help, NJ.com reported.
Petronino managed to hit the bear twice in the head with a rock hammer before curling into a fetal position and covering his face with a sweatshirt, authorities told the news site.
The boys called 911 but were unable to provide an exact location, so officials began tracking their coordinates and sent out a police helicopter to search.
The scout leader then reportedly instructed his troop to leave any food they had outside the cave to bring the animal, which he could hear “huffing,” out of the cave.
The bear was eventually scared out of the cave and up a hill by a barking dog that was with the troop, NJ.com wrote.
Petronino was able to leave the cave and give police their exact location. He was taken by helicopter to a nearby hospital to be treated for non-life threatening injuries.
None of the scouts were injured.
The attack follows the annual black bear hunt in northern New Jersey, which was reintroduced to the area in 2010 to keep the population from expanding into heavily-populated areas. More than 500 bears were killed this year, NJ.com wrote.
Petronino reportedly told officials that the bear in Sunday’s attack did not appear to have any ear tags or a collar.
Experts believe the bear was protecting its hibernation location and do not consider the animal to be a “category I bear,” a bear that poses an immediate threat to human safety, NJ.com reported.