Deer sighted in Kearny! Inside Lincoln School!

Photo by Karen Zautyk
Photo by Karen Zautyk


Pop quiz:

1. Which of these animals is NOT native to New Jersey?

A. Muskrat

B. Bobcat

C. Coyote

D. Mink

2. If you want a mother bear to foster an orphan cub, what should you do?

A. Bribe her with honey

B. Sneak the cub into her den and hope she doesn’t notice

C. Introduce the orphan to the other cubs first

D. Smear Vicks VapoRub on her nose

3. After drugs and guns, what is the third most profitable crime in N.J.?

A. Car thefts

B. Insurance fraud

C. Bank robberies

D. Illegal trade in wildlife

Did you pick coyote or bobcat in question 1? Wrong. All those animals are Jersey natives. The answer to question 3 is, surprisingly D. As for the mother bear, Vicks VapoRub is the correct response. (More on that in a bit.)

We learned all these things and much, much more last week from N.J. Division of Fish & Wildlife Conservation Officer Joe Kuechler, who presented a fascinating, and educational, program to the Kearny Junior Police Academy cadets at Lincoln School. He even brought along the deer pictured above. It was amazingly docile. But then, its electronics weren’t working.

Kuechler was a font of information, his lecture ranging from history to biology to hunting/fishing laws to animal behavior. And human behavior.

The aforementioned deer is a life-size decoy, which is placed in the wild to catch those “hunters” who don’t respect the law. Its head turns, its tail wags, its eyes light up at night (think “deer in the headlights”). There it will sit, minding its own business, and some armed dork will come along and shoot it from a car. Not very sporting. Or they will shoot it out of season. In either case, they’ll get busted. And hopefully learn their lesson.

Illegal hunting has always been with us, and Kuechler explained that enforcement of game regulations dates all the way back to the “forest law” of 13th century Europe. In North America, the first hunting regs were introduced in the 17th century. Fish and game control officers “represent the oldest form of law enforcement in the Western Hemisphere,” he noted.

“We’re also the most assaulted law enforcement officers per capita in the United States,” he said. Think about it. Conservation officers are usually out alone in the forests and mountains, and when they confront lawbreakers “we’re usually outnumbered.” And those lawbreakers are all armed.

“Not too many people know what I do,” he told the rapt audience. “I’m not not a park ranger. I’m not an animal control officer. I deal only with wildlife, not domestic animals.”

He and his N.J. cohorts enforce hunting, fishing and trapping laws, investigate hunting accidents, do routine daily inspections, check that hunters have proper gear, and also act as CSI detectives who can determine the cause/time of death when an animal or bird meets an odd demise or when there is a fish kill in a body of water (did the fish die of disease or of some pollutant in the water?).

All the N.J. conservation officers have degrees in biology. “I’m basically a biologist who carries a gun and a nightstick,” he commented.

They also investigate illegal trafficking in wildlife, and Kuechler told stories, and showed photos, of some cases he had handled. One of which involved a Hudson County man who was trapping songbirds, cardinals and blue jays and selling them, at a nifty price, to a man in Brazil. Who was likely selling them for an even niftier price since, in Brazil, these would be “exotic” birds.

Then there are the cases involving wild creatures being kept illegally as pets. Kuechler cited two, one of which involved a man who was keeping a cobra in a cage at the foot of the crib in which his 3-monthold son slept.

Another man had “rescued” an orphaned fawn, thought it would make a nice pet, and was raising it in his home. At night, it slept on the sofa with the guy’s labrador retriever. Sounds cute, but a deer is not suited for domestic life. It is a wild creature.

The advice to any animal lover who finds some ostensibly “orphaned” wild critter and is tempted to adopt and try to domesticate it: “If you care, leave it there!”

Which brings us to the mother bear adopting an orphaned cub. The conservation officers often use bear mamas for this purpose, and they even have their favorites — ones that have fostered cubs in the past and have been good mothers.

When such a cub is found, it is brought to the den of a female that has her own brood. The mother is sedated and Vicks is smeared on her snout. The cubs — her own and the orphan — have their fur smeared with Vicks. When mama wakes up, she has one more cub, but since they all smell alike, it is welcomed to the family.

By the way, N.J. mama bears have the biggest litters in the U.S. — four to five cubs, compared with the average two or three in other states.

Our state also is home to some of the biggest black bears in the country, said Kuechler, citing N.J. bruins that have weighed in at 800 pounds. (And you still wonder why I don’t like the outdoors.)

All this is only a smidgen of Kuechler’s lecture. We all also learned about illegal net fishing in the Passaic (why anyone would fish in the polluted Passaic is beyond me); illegal clamming; the fact that there are blue-claw crabs in Kearny waters off Rt. 7 but you’d better steer clear since the waters are condemned due to heavy metal contamination; the northern border-to-Delaware Bay and Hudson-to-Delaware River range of the conservation officers’ jurisdiction; and much more.

If you’d like additional information on the Division of Fish & Wildife and the amazing work conservation officers do, visit

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