Hide your honey, your porridge and (in reality) your bird feeders and your garbage cans. There’s a bear on the loose!
Over the past week, a black bear has been spotted in Lower Bucks County. The LBC, as I like to call it, is more urbanized than your usual bear habitat, meaning everyone is freaking out. The bear was spotted at a Bensalem soccer field, on a Bristol Township lawn, and even in Hulmeville, a town you’ve probably never even heard of. Things haven’t been this exciting in the LBC since the Neshaminy Mall was built.
The bear, though, is just one of many famous animals to stalk through the Philadelphia area in recent years, causing alarm, hilarity or both. Here’s a look at some of the best.
The Bucks County Bear
Species: A black bear. Possibly multiple black bears. Ursus americanus.
Name, if any: None that we know of. Not even his stupid Twitter account has a name.
Origin: Central-to-Upper Bucks, I assume. I guess he’s more of a city bear rather than those pompous, nouveau riche bears up in Yardley.
Key media quote: “I’ve been at this job 20-something years, and this is the first verified bear sighting that I recall. Over the years people call and say ‘I just saw a bear!’ but then you get out to the scene it’s just a big dog.”—Middletown police Lt. John Michniewicz
Resolution: None yet. But get this: A black bear was also spotted in Florence, N.J.! The bears are taking over! Or it’s just spring and sometimes there are bears around, one of the two.
West Philly Turkey
Species: Per a Wikipedia search, it appears to be the Eastern wild turkey. Meleagris gallopavo silvestris.
Name, if any: According to the Daily News‘ Stephanie Farr, his name was Fred, but he changed it to Barkevious.
Origin: A turkey just showed up at Bartram’s Garden one day, probably from the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum. The workers named it Franklina, and a few days later, it had three babies. The female turkeys flew the coop, and the males fought so much one eventually escaped to gentrify West Philly.
Key media quote: “Is it weird that it’s just walking down the sidewalk like it’s on the way to get some coffee?”—Christina, in a comment on the West Philly Local blog
Resolution: None yet. Basically, the turkey is still wandering West Philly, eating at Little Baby’s ice cream, drinking Dock Street beer and protesting the new apartment building at 43rd and Baltimore.
The Angry Jersey Turkeys
Species: Eastern wild turkeys again, though more likely the bad apples of Barkevious’ flock.
Name, if any: Probably some gang name that sounds cool to the turkeys but ridiculously lame to outsiders.
Origin: According to the Burlington County Times, a man in Hainesport Township, New Jersey, was feeding the group of roughly 30 turkeys. It led to them getting aggressive with the local population last summer. Randy Morton said he and his wife saw the flock attack a runner.
Key media quote: “The diesel trucks would get them wound up, and they would chase you down the road and stuff like that. There was one that was aggressive, he’d come after you, but it didn’t take much to get him to go the other way.”—an unnamed man to NBC 10
Resolution: The township passed a no-feeding ordinance, and presumably the turkeys moved on.
The Delaware River Whale
Species: A beluga whale. Delphinapterus leucas.
Name, if any: Helis, from the French helice, or propeller. A scar on Helis came from a boat propeller, experts said, and French Canadians are so weird they named it after the injury.
Origin: Originally spotted by Canadian wildlife officials in 1986 in the St. Lawrence River, the white whale made its way up the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers in the summer of 2005. He was here to feed on shad. (Attention enterprising Philadelphia restaurateurs: Next time a whale comes around these parts, make an exploitative gourmet shad dish for the foodies.) After he swam as far north as Hamilton, New Jersey, in the Delaware, Helis turned around and headed to the ocean—only to change his mind and head up the Schuylkill.
Key media quote: “Well, we didn’t see a whale, but we still had fun, didn’t we?”—a father to his presumably disappointed children after not seeing a whale at Neshaminy State Park
Resolution: I have to imagine the Schuylkill drove him away.
The Elusive Delaware Valley Cougar
Species: A cougar, a.k.a. a puma, mountain lion, panther, catamount or Nittany lion. Puma concolor.
Name, if any: None, as he probably doesn’t exist.
Origin: It was 1995. We should have been discussing girls, or the Flyers’ Stanley Cup chances, but all my seventh-grade class could talk about was the cougar. The city was awash in media reports of cougar sightings, and we could not get enough. A friend’s older brother said he saw it, right on Good Shepherd’s field. Even though this seemed unlikely, as the animal was in West Philly and not the Northeast, we wanted to believe.
Multiple sightings near Cobbs Creek Park sparked our imaginations. Seemingly everyone had an idea of how to capture it. My favorite was Montco pet shop owner Charles Warwick, who offered one of his two pet cougars as bait to lure the cougar out into the open. “They are dangerous, even domesticated,” Warnick told the Inquirer of his pets. “They are wild animals and can demand the respect they deserve.”
Theories abounded: A Valley Forge “eccentric” kept cougars as pets, and one escaped, or a drug dealer’s pet cougar got loose; the first reports said the cougar had a leash. Neither seemed too plausible, and Warwick’s cougars were accounted for. The Daily News reported on January 13, 1995 that the police said there was “nothing new on the Cougar Watch,” capital letters theirs. This was a Big Deal. The Inquirer reported people left “chicken wings, lamb chops, doughnuts and hot dogs” for the beast in Cobbs Creek Park.
Then, it disappeared. The last sighting was January 25th. Was there even a cougar at all? Cougars once roamed the entire Eastern U.S.; European colonization wiped out their habitat this far north for the most part, but one could come up this far. “You have to believe people when they all say, ‘I saw a big cat,'” Ted Daeschler of Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences told the Inquirer. Four police officers swore they saw a cougar. Yet it left without a trace.
But wait! A year later, a cougar—the same cougar?—was spotted in northern Delaware. Then, in 2001, there were three cougar sightings at a village in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. In 2003, a cougar was spotted in both Chester and Bucks counties. And, yes, just two years ago, there were reports of a cougar in Upper Darby.
Key media quote: “”My neighbor calls and leaves cat noises on the answering machine, and you should hear my grandfather—talking about cat eyes and how they can see in the dark”—Lisa Matteo, West Philly resident, on the uproar over the cougar
Resolution: Will the cougar ever show up again? Did the cougar actually exist? I will always believe he’ll return one day.