Wild Tracks

Black Bears Prefer Minivans


Locking your car doors in bear country  isn’t going to keep the big bruins out. A hungry bear will happily rip the door right off if he smells food inside.

In Yosemite National Park, California, American black bears are a serious threat to cars. On most nights, they patrol the campground to browse the scents in the parking lot.

Three workers with the US Department of Agriculture have published a study in the Journal of Mammalogy after they analyzed the bear break in data from 2001 to 2007, when the bears had vandalized over 1000 vehicles.

Minivans were first or second on the hit list, despite the fact they represented only a small fraction of the automobiles present in the parking lots. For the years 2004 and 2005, the vans made up only 7 percent of parked vehicles, but nearly 30 percent of them were looted. No other vehicle was raided so disproportionately.

While it’s impossible to know why the bears choose these vehicles, we can make a few assumptions.

Minivans are family cars designed for those with babies and young children. More children generally means more crumbs, and possibly stored food items to keep the kids happy. Manna for a bear’s nose!

Black bears quickly learn how to maximize food resources in any new habitat as a matter of survival. Over time, the bears in the park have probably learned to associate the minivans with greater potential reward, and are just foraging selectively as they do in the wild.

The energy costs of opening these roaming pantries are significant. It takes a lot of work for the bear to tear off doors and rip out seats. They must be confident the effort will be worth it.

Do the minivans really contain more food, or are they just easier for the bears to break into?

It would be very interesting to see a further study on why the bears prefer these vehicles. If they’re chosen because they’re easier to break into, both the auto makers and the families that purchase them might be interested.

My money is on the food hoards. Anyone who has travelled with small children knows how much food you have to take along. Bears aren’t going to go through all that physical work unless they’re pretty sure of a reward, and it seems to me a minivan is a logical place to look for a variety of tasty treats.