By Ellen Wulfhorst
(Reuters) - A man hiking in a heavily wooded area of northern New Jersey was killed by a black bear during the weekend, police said on Monday, in what experts called an extremely rare attack.
Darsh Patel, 22, of Edison, New Jersey, and four friends encountered the bear on Sunday afternoon in the Apshawa Preserve, about 40 miles (64 km) northwest of New York City, according to the West Milford Township, New Jersey, police department.
The bear began to follow the hikers and they scattered, police said in a statement. Four of them regrouped but Patel was missing and they contacted police, it said. Patel's body was found about two hours later.
"Evidence at the scene indicated that the victim had been attacked by a bear," the statement said.
A bear was found at the scene and killed, police said.
Black bears are common in New Jersey and have been seen in all of the state's 21 counties, but attacks on humans are unusual, according to experts.
"It is definitely rare," said Lawrence Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The current number of bears in New Jersey is about 2,500, he said.
New Jersey, which the DEP said has one of the highest black bear densities in the nation, holds a six-day bear hunt in December.
No one had been killed by a black bear in New Jersey since 1852, according to a 2010 report on black bears by the New Jersey Fish and Game Council.
In New York state, a bear killed a 5-month-old girl in 2002 after knocking her out of a stroller and dragging her into the woods of the Catskills Mountains.
Four years ago, a bear in northwestern New Jersey attacked a man and took his sandwich, leaving him with cuts, bruises and a dislocated shoulder. Police at the time said the incident was the first of its kind in Vernon in more than 25 years, despite a large number of bear sightings.
Typically, black bears are not aggressive and tend to flee from humans, according to the New Jersey DEP website.
They create a nuisance by getting into residential garbage and tend to be active in the fall when searching for food ahead of the winter, it said.
Apshawa Preserve is a 576-acre (233-hectare) nature preserve of oak and sugar maple trees that is popular with hikers and bird watchers.
(Editing by Bill Trott, Jim Loney and Sandra Maler)