Zig-zagging across half of New Jersey in what appears to be an increasingly forlorn search for a mate, a lonely black bear is finding himself more often the target of a tranquilizer dart than Cupid's arrow.
Known as bear number 6131, the young adult male has been captured by wildlife officials in no less than six towns in little over a year, each time being released into a state wildlife area.
His romantic quest was yet again briefly halted on Wednesday as he tumbled unconscious from a tree in a suburban front yard in East Brunswick into a net held by officers from the state's Department of Environmental Protection.
"Probably in the course of a week he's traveling over 100 miles," Kim Tinnes, a wildlife services technician who was at the scene, said in a telephone interview. "I've got 30 years with the state and I don't think we've ever trapped the same bear so many times in so many urban situations."
Tinnes first encountered bear 6131 in May 2010 in Parsipanny in northern New Jersey. While unconscious, the bear was tagged on his ears, his inner lip was tattooed with his newly assigned number, and he was fitted with a tracking collar.
Since then, Tinnes and her colleagues have been able to watch him as he rambles fruitlessly around the state before inevitably crossing paths with officials from the wildlife division.
"He's spending so much time on the road he's actually losing weight," Tinnes said, adding that bear 6131 weighed only 263 pounds on Wednesday, having shed some 30 pounds since they first met.
Bear 6131 is stuck in a quandary, according to Tinnes. He hails from northern New Jersey, which is also home to many eligible female black bears. But as a relatively small 3-year-old adult, he is unable to compete with the older, larger male bears that dominate the territory. His neck is scarred with old claw marks that attest to this.
So he figured he would try central New Jersey instead, where he is less likely to encounter dominant males. Unfortunately, he is also less likely to meet a breeding partner. But he keeps looking.
Although it is tempting to cast his predicament in human terms, Tinnes warns against getting too sentimental. Black bears are solitary creatures. They do not attach much importance to monogamy. Bear 6131 does not want a companion. He just wants to breed and move on.
"It's usually a one-shot, two-shot deal before moving on to look for another breeding partner," she said. "There's no emotion to it."