Some of the best stories are the ones we can never tell. This one was kept secret for nearly a decade from the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife. Even now, some of the details have been blurred to protect the innocent. But now that this bear – and even some of the activists – have long moved on, I can share it with you.
Do you recall Aesop’s fable of Androcles and the Lion? Androcles was terrified when he came upon a lion. But when the lion showed him his swollen paw, pierced by a thorn, the boy's fear turned to pity. Androcles reached over...and removed the thorn. Later, the lion paid him back tenfold when Androcles was thrown into the arena. The mighty cat who burst through the doors didn't tear the boy to shreds, but instead licked his friend's hand, forever grateful.
I’M PRETTY SURE THAT HERE IN BEAR COUNTRY, AESOP WOULD HAVE HAD A LOT TO WRITE ABOUT. Of course, he would have written that the source of pain was not a thorn, but a wire snare trap.
A snare trap is a wire noose that springs shut around an animal’s limb when he steps into it, and then tightens. As he struggles to free himself, he can sustain great injuries. Webster defines snare as “to catch by trickery”, because the animal is lured to his demise with food. So by definition, it’s a sinister device. These snares, among other traps, are in use by NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife.
One autumn day, some of our bear country people learned more about these snares than they wanted to, when they heard the bellows of an animal coming from the nearby woods.
Following the sound down the trail, they found him, trapped. The big bear didn’t know that pulling against the wire would only hurt more. So he pulled harder, unable to understand why this monster wouldn’t let go.
Panicking, he wrapped and unwrapped himself around the tree. He was bawling, and climbing up and down the tree, trying to escape.
It was clear something needed to be done before he really hurt himself.
But we all know what can happen when even the gentlest family dog is in pain. My dog once got his leg caught in the rungs of a dining chair. And he bit the person trying get him loose, hard enough to draw blood. What would it take to safely free a 400-pound bear in a state of panic?
The answer came in the form of bolt cutters…and Angi Metler.
By day, Angi was a med tech, but her “real” job is the director of the BEAR Group. A longtime practitioner of Ahimsa (non-violence), her kindness toward living things is not to be mistaken for weakness. At protests, she’s the one in the stylish purple coat and fancy pleather boots. But she’s also the one carrying the bullhorn. I once saw a video where a hunter pointed his shotgun at her and threatened to shoot, and Angi didn’t even flinch.
As the story was told to me, the bear was really flipping out, even biting off pieces of the tree in panic.
Let me add, that when the NJ DFW traps bears, they tranquilize them. And considering the many times they’ve shot and killed these animals, we know that our state “biologists” are also armed. Of course, Angi wasn’t armed. No one there was.
She approached him, she admitted later, “Nervously.” She had to get close enough to completely remove the snare. Pagan prayers rose up through the treetops. And then when Angi was just about a foot away from him, he made a sudden and unanticipated move… In his pain and terror, the big bear turned… and hid his face.
Angi, with her velvet glove, reached over and cut the wire.
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