DEC officer frees bear cub from jar stuck on its head

A black bear cub that got its head stuck in a plastic jar was freed by Greene County DEC conservation officers after a four-hour stakeout in the Catskills hamlet of Palenville on June 30.

The cub, stumbling blindly with its head stuck in a large opaque plastic jar, was spotted by residents and an electrician around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30.

And the cub wasn’t alone.

“The mother came galloping through our yard,” said Gail Richards Dedrick, who lives on Palenville’s Maple Avenue. “I had seen the bear before, but I had never seen it move that quickly and determinedly.”

Above: The bear cub with a jar on its head. Photo by Gail Richards Dedrick. 

Just as the mother bear disappeared, a bear cub blundered into the yard from the other direction, Dedrick said.

“It was stumbling around, and you could hear it,” she said. “The bear was bumping into trees.”

Dedrick’s husband tried to free the bear himself, but the jar was stuck tight.

“He ran out and picked the baby up by the jar,” Dedrick said. “The baby was struggling and it scratched him slightly. He put the baby down and we saw it take off towards Route 32A.”

That’s when Dedrick decided to call 911, which patched her through to Anthony Glorioso, a Greene County Conservation Officer with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

“She scared the daylights out of me”

Glorioso immediately knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to find the bear, get between it and its mother, and free it from the jar.

“It’s not a very common thing,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve had to deal with something like that. If someone can’t pull it off, there’s no way that bear is going to get it off itself.” 

When he arrived in Palenville 15 minutes later, there was no sign of the bears, who had fled into the woods. Glorioso followed them.

“I’m thinking this bear cub is running around, running into trees, into houses,” he said. But everything was quiet. With his eyes fixed on the ground, Glorioso searched the undergrowth.

Suddenly: “I walked past a tree, and I got the ‘WOOOF,’” he said.  

The mother bear, just 10 feet away on the trunk of a tree, was roaring at him.

Above: The mother bear in the tree. Photo by Anthony Glorioso. 

“I’m telling you, I jumped so high," Glorioso said. "She scared the daylights out of me.”

Glorioso had found the bear family. The mother bear, two other cubs and the cub with the jar stuck on its head were 150 feet up in the tree.

“I thought, ‘Oh man, what am I going to do now?’” Glorioso said.

The stakeout

Bears often nap during the day, and these soon bears did just that, going to sleep high in the tree.

On the ground, Glorioso and two New York State Troopers waited, hidden, for four-and-a-half hours. They were armed with guns loaded with both rubber bullets and live ammunition, just in case, but there was no way they could reach the bears.

Eventually, when the troopers had to leave, Glorioso called his boss, Lieutenant Kevin Beiter, and asked for backup. When Beiter arrived, Glorioso told him his plan.

They had to act before dark. “If they don’t come down before it gets dark, the chances of them being here in the morning are very slim,” Glorioso said.

Bears often become active at dusk, so Glorioso hoped that they would make their way down the tree at nightfall.

Then would come the hard part.

“Hopefully, when they come down, the cub with the jar on his head will separate himself from the mother so that we can go in and grab him,” Glorioso told Beiter. “It’s going to be last-minute decision.”

Not getting between the mother bear and her cub is “Bear 101,” as Glorioso puts it.

“My boss looked at me and said, ‘You want to charge this mother bear?’”

“We just bolted”

Around 8 p.m., as it was getting dark, the mother bear awoke. All three bears made their way down the tree, including the cub with the jar on its head.

Just as Glorioso had hoped, the cub wandered away from its mother and siblings, heading back towards town. The mother bear followed him for a bit, but then turned and moved back towards the other cubs, who were heading deeper into the woods.

When there was a 20-yard gap between the mother and the cub, the DEC officers made their move.

“I said, ‘Are you ready?’ And he said, ‘Yes,’” Glorioso said. “And we just bolted. We bolted right at her.”

They took the mother bear totally by surprise. After a shocked moment, she sprinted back up the tree, barking a command at her cubs that made them scramble up after her.

But not the cub with the jar on its head. Glorioso had swerved toward it.

“I blasted off towards the right running after that cub,” he said. “I just grabbed him by the neck, and I tried to pull it off really lightly, but it didn’t come off.”

Glorioso had expected this, and had a pair of tin snips at the ready.

“I had to get on top of him and put him between my legs,” he said. “I was able to get the tin snips between the jar and his neck and was able to get him free.”

As soon as the bear was free of the jar, Glorioso said, “he went running right up to that tree with the mother.”

“Like she was saying ‘Thank you’”

The whole time, the mother bear had remained about 10 or 15 feet up in the tree, watching, oddly quiet, Glorioso thought.

“It was almost like she knew we were trying to help him,” he said. “Usually they’ll chomp their teeth at you or make noise, but she was really relaxed on the side of the tree looking at us.”

Perhaps the mother bear knew that the conservation officers were there to help, Glorioso said: “Mama probably knew something was wrong there, because she had bitten holes in the jar so that that bear could breathe.

And even when the deed was done, with her cub safety up the tree and rid of its imprisoning jar, the mother bear paused a moment.

“She kept on looking at us,” Glorioso said. “You would think that after that cub went up, she would have followed him up. But she kind of sat there and looked at us. I almost felt like she was saying, ‘Thank you.’”

Palenville hero

Nobody knows what was in the jar, or where the cub found it.

“Whatever was in there, that bear wanted it,” Glorioso said. “It could have been mayonnaise or honey — something was in there that bear liked.”

“The consensus was that it was a wholesale mayonnaise jar,” Dedrick said.

Dedrick spent the afternoon fielding queries from her neighbors on Facebook about the cub. The next day, when word spread that the cub was free, “the town was just absolutely thrilled,” Dedrick said.

Whatever was in the jar, Glorioso now has it hanging on his office wall as a memento of what he says is one of the “coolest things I have ever done” as a conservation officer.

“I’m telling you, it was a really neat experience,” he said. “It’s likely, honestly, that if you didn’t do anything for that cub that night, chances are that the cub would have probably died.”

Dedrick said that after the incident, Glorioso is a celebrity around Palenville.

“I told him that he was a hero," she said.