(CNN) — A Boy Scout troop leader was mauled by a bear after he and three Scouts stumbled upon the animal in northern New Jersey on Sunday, the Rockaway Township Police Department said.
The three Scouts accompanying him were unharmed, officials said.
The Boy Scout leader, Christopher Petronino, took the three Scouts to a cave at Split Rock Reservoir in Morris County, which is about 25 miles west of New York City. The 50-year-old had known about the cave since the 1980s but had never witnessed a bear using it before, according to CNN affiliate WCBS.
When Petronino entered the cave Sunday afternoon, a black bear reached for the Scout leader’s foot, biting him on the leg, shoulder and arm, according to officials. Petronino then hit the bear with a rock hammer, curled up into the fetal position and shouted to the boys to call for help.
Officials searched by ground and air after one of the Scouts called 911.
Petronino and the boys were found several hours after rescue crews used the GPS coordinates of one of the Scout’s cell phones, officials said in a news release.
The Scout leader was bleeding from his head and other parts of his body. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where his injuries were deemed not life-threatening, and he has since been released.
The bear may have been trying to hibernate, according to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. After the attack, the cave has remained empty. Nonlethal traps have been laid out around the area in hopes of observing the bear.
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 reports.
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.