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Dead bear cub in Central Park baffles New Yorkers

Dead bear cub in Central Park baffles New Yorkers
Florence Slatkin, with dog Paco, points to the spot where she and other dog-walkers found a dead bear cub on Monday in New York's Central Park. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

By Tuesday morning, the spot in Central Park where a baby bear was found dead of blunt force trauma had become a tourist draw. Customers in pedicabs and horse-drawn carriages snapped pictures as their drivers slowed down and pointed out the yew tree under which the 3-foot cub, tangled in a bicycle, had been discovered a day earlier.

"The question is, how did it get here?" the voice of a TV reporter doing a stand-up from the scene boomed through the usually placid spot at the foot of a gentle slope.

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Police do not know, but dog-walkers, tourists and park regulars had no shortage of theories as they pondered the morbid mystery, the latest odd animal tale to rivet the city. A Harlem man kept a 425-pound pet tiger in his apartment until it bit him in 2003. A venomous cobra was loose for seven days in 2011 after escaping the Bronx Zoo. Coyotes have been spotted from lower Manhattan to the city's northern reaches.

The bear case is particularly baffling, because police say the animal appeared to have been dumped in the park after dying elsewhere. It is the first time a black bear, a species virtually unknown in New York City, has been found in Central Park.

On Tuesday evening, the case took another twist: Wildlife officials in the state capital, Albany, said a necropsy had determined the cub died of "blunt force trauma consistent with a motor vehicle collision."

Initially, police had said the 6-month-old female weighing 44 pounds appeared to have suffered slash wounds.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which performed the necropsy, said it was investigating how the bear's body got to the park, and said whoever left it there could face charges of illegal possession, transport and disposal of an untagged bear.

Brian Shapiro, the Humane Society of the United States’ New York director, said if someone accidentally hit the bear while driving, the motorist should have called wildlife officials to either help the animal or euthanize it if it was suffering and beyond aid. As to whether the bear could have wandered into the park on its own after being injured elsewhere, Shapiro was doubtful.

"There are bears in New York state, but how one would find its way … into New York City — that's stretching the imagination," Shapiro said.

"There's something sinister here," said Torrey Robeck, one of the first to come across the bear as she walked her dog, Sparky, on Monday morning. She noticed the bicycle beneath the bushy tree, which sits in the shadow of a Civil War monument between two well-traveled roads.

Robeck said it was not unusual to find dead raccoons, rats or other wildlife in Central Park. This time, when she and other dog-walkers peered beneath the leaves to see what was there, they spotted thick, black fur, with deep red marks on it. The bear's feet were twisted in the spokes of the bicycle, a "ratty-looking" 10-speed, said Robeck.

"It obviously had suffered traumatic injuries," Robeck said of the bear. "It was heart-breaking. Clearly something really bad had happened."

Someone called police, who alerted park officials. Slowly, they pulled the bear and bicycle from beneath the tree. They noted a path in the soil that suggested the animal had been dragged to its final resting spot.

Robeck shuddered at the thought that someone could run down a cub and transport its corpse into Manhattan to be dumped beneath a tree.

"I think they should be put in a mental institution," she said.

Follow @TinaSusman for national news

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