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Black bear remembered

December 28, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

The New York Times Magazine on Sunday, December 25, included a section titled, “The Lives They Lived. Remembering Muhammad Ali, Gwen Ifill, David Bowie, Natalie Cole and more of those we lost in the past year.” One of those remembered is “Pedals the Bear.” (Magazine, page 22).It is heartening to see a non human being honored in the section, and Jon Mooallem’s article about Pedals is touching and important. Against a backdrop discussion of the New Jersey bear hunt, he writes of Pedals:

“The black bear rose to fame in the summer of 2014, after a man in suburban Oak Ridge filmed him toddling through the bulb end of a quiet cul-de-sac at dawn. Pedals, as he became known, appeared to be missing his right front paw, and his left front leg seemed warped and truncated — injury or deformity, only he knew. But he had apparently compensated for these disabilities by learning to walk upright, an image that produced both delight and terror. It all felt deeply weird. Especially because Pedals was good at walking. The camera tracked him as he moved in a sturdy lurch, covering a lot of ground, holding his dangling, unnecessary arms close to his chest like a mime absconding with a snatched purse. At one point, Pedals leaned over a garbage can, just to check out what was inside. Then he crossed a lawn and accelerated into a stand of trees. It was obvious where he was heading: internet fame.

“At first, many people refused to believe that the footage was real. But even those who did resorted to describing Pedals as looking like a human in a bear suit — which, on the skeletal level, is a fair description of what all bears are. His humanness was uncanny and made our animal-ness feel suddenly uncanny, too. After all, we were quadrupedal ourselves until three to six million years ago, when a few of us reared up and decided to stop moving dumbly in the direction of our digestive tracts. It was our earliest signature innovation. Now Pedals was innovating, too — crossing some sacrosanct threshold of verticality, blurring some line. They didn’t contextualize the video like this when they played it on ‘Good Morning America,’ but if the walking bear unsettled you, I’m suggesting that this is why.”
The article notes that activists put together a petition to have Pedals captured and transferred to a sanctuary, but Mooallem explains that state wildlife officials saw that Pedals was “getting around, foraging, denning in winter — successfully executing all vital bear behaviors” and even putting on weight, and “They were hesitant to wrench an animal from the wild unnecessarily and warned that what might, through a certain anthropomorphic lens, feel like rescuing could actually be imprisonment.” 

But then came the sad end: 

“But the wild card all along, of course, was New Jersey’s bear hunt. And on Oct. 10, it happened: A bow hunter in Morris County lugged Pedals’s body to a check station and weighed him in at 334 pounds…

One photograph, released by the government, shows Pedals hanging from a scale with a bloodied maw — vertical again, but this time upside down.”
Mooallem closes with:

“Pedals stood for something. We may never agree what it was.” That presents the perfect opportunity for letters that point to what it was. They might be against the New Jersey bear hunt, or against hunting in general, or might take a wider look at our relationships with other species. 
You’ll find the whole piece on line at http://tinyurl.com/h4jq2zh and can respond with a letter to the New York Times Magazine, published in every Sunday New York Times. Send letters to magazine@nytimes.com They should be under 150 words and include your full name, address, and daytime phone number (for verification not publication).

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