Seventy-one-year-old Leroy Lewis had a unique friend: an almost 900-pound black bear he had been feeding by hand for 17 years. He named the bear Bozo.
On the first day of Pennsylvania’s new archery season, a hunter shot Bozo dead in the animal's Poconos habitat. The Nov. 15 bear kill should have been a great trophy for hunter David Price, as Bozo is now the largest black bear ever taken down in state history.
But for Lewis and many residents of the Bushkill community, the death of the beloved Bozo was a tragedy, reports the Pocono Record.
"I'm devastated. I'm just devastated," Lewis told the Pocono Record Friday. "I mean I feel like I lost a friend. He used to come knock on the door when he was hungry."
The 879-pound bear is the heaviest on record in Pennsylvania by 15 pounds. Bozo surely got to be that size because of the store-bought pies, doughnuts, table-scraps and sweets Lewis would feed him.
"I fed him for 17 years and I raised him from a cub," Lewis, who worked for years as the Fernwood Resort groundkeeper, told the Pocono Record. "He loved doughnuts and anything sweet. I was never scared of him."
After the community-wide outpouring of grief became known to Price, the hunter who bagged Bozo told the Pocono Record that the whole affair has been upsetting. Price had no idea that the 17-year-old bear was a regular friend to the Fernwood Resort and surrounding residents.
Price told the Record that an event that should have been the pinnacle of his hunting career has been tainted.
Game commission officials say the bear was harvested legally. They also stated that Lewis was doing wrong by feeding the bear.
"He was just so friendly that I felt like feeding him," Lewis told the Record. "I never felt like I did anything wrong."
For exclusive photos of Bozo and Lewis, go to The Stroudsburg Pocono Record.