Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Tag Archives: american black bears

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.

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The Other White Bear

On the western coast of Canada, deep in the coastal rainforest, lives a unique bear.

The Kermode, or Spirit bear, is a genetic variation of the American black bear, and found nowhere else in the world. The white coat is thought to be caused by a recessive gene, and when two black bears who carry this gene mate, a white cub is born.

This video from The Nature Conservancy Canada tells the story of this beautiful inhabitant of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Yogi Bear Reincarnate?

This not Yellow-Yellow, but an equally intrigued member of her family.

This not Yellow-Yellow, but a member of her family eating real bear food - berries.

If you live or hike in bear country, you know all about keeping your food out of sniffing range. Or at least you should.

Open food left in a campsite is just an invitation for large, furry visitors with teeth & claws. There are a number of solutions available, and in the past it has been popular to encase your food in a tarp or canvas sack, and tie it up in a tree. The bears soon learned that if they chewed on the ropes, they received a nice dinner from above.

Then came the invention of tougher breeds of bear canisters, which proved effective for most bears. Most – but not all.

A clever little female black bear in the Adirondacks of New York State has wildlife officers and bear canister designers scratching their heads.

Named Yellow Yellow for the tags in her ears, this little bruin has managed to defeat not only the childproof top on previously invulnerable polycarbonate vaults, but also new, two-lock systems.

Jamie Hogan, the owner of the California based BearVault, said the designer side of him is very impressed by her actions.

And if one clever bear can pick apart his locks — which include single and double push-tabs to open the twist top — he wonders how soon before others learn the same trick.

Hogan has been told to just sell his canisters for use everywhere else, since it’s only in Yellow-Yellow’s backyard the BearVaults, and other brands, are being defeated. But as a designer, he just can’t give up when bested by a bear.

A new and once again improved locking system is in the works, and will be set out to tempt and test the otherwise shy 125-pound thief.

“She’s a female, and I just see her having babies and passing on the knowledge,” BearVault designer Hogan now frets.

I for one am very impressed with Yellow Yellow’s talent. Based on personal experience, I can’t even open child-proof locks, and I have opposable thumbs. Or possibly too many thumbs, now that I think of it.

As amusing as this story is, let us not forget what happens to problem bears. I sincerely hope they manage to curb her lock-picking proclivities, or her days may be numbered.