Smarter Than the Average Bear

Grazing Deer and Half Dome

Grazing Deer and Half Dome

When we were in Yosemite, Anne and I took a class sponsored by the Ansel Adams gallery. Christine, our instructor squired us around for an afternoon, drilling us on photographic technique and positioning us to reproduce some of Ansel Adams iconic photos. As it turns out this was only her day job. At night, she also worked for the Bear Patrol.

While we were traipsing across the valley floor, she once stopped and warned some other staff members with dogs that a mountain lion had been seen just the night before, right outside their fenced-in backyard. Their six-foot high wooden palisade fence would do nothing to deter a lion from snatching their dog, if it was out at night. She told us later about another family’s misfortune. It occurred when their small dog forded a creek ahead of them and then was set upon by coyotes. It was killed right in front of them and it happened before they could react. It was an awful thing to witness and totally ruined their vacation. I was glad that we were sleeping on the second floor of a motel that night.

What did the female deer say when she walked out of the woods? I’ll never do that again for two bucks.

Her most interesting story was about this young female black bear. The bears in Yosemite that have names, all have rather un-prosaic names, like “Orange-15”, which is also the name of their radio collar. If you are a bear in Yosemite, you don’t want a name and you certainly don’t want the radio collar either. A bear gets both, when their behavior raises their profile enough that the Bear Patrol intervenes. Thousands of people visit Yosemite every year and most of these people bring food with them. A small percentage of these visitors are careless enough with their food that a bear can get a hold of it. Jelly sandwiches are much more enticing than nuts and berries you see, ask Yogi. If these human-bear interactions occur often enough then the bear gets radio tagged. If things get totally out of hand then the bear might have to be put down.

On the valley floor all of the trash cans have special bear lids and there are also bear boxes for food storage. The bear patrol also spends most nights tracking habitual offenders and running them off. In the back-country though, hikers are pretty much on their own. They do have one deterrent though, the backpacker’s bear canister. These cylindrically shaped reinforced plastic canisters for storing food in are supposed to be bear proof. They even require one to twist a coin in a slot to open them. That young female black bear that I mentioned before has devised a means to break into them though. On the bluffs of the Snow Creek trail, overlooking Mirror Lake, at the eastern end of the valley, she simply rolls them off the cliff. They fall 300’ and are dashed to pieces on the rocks below. She then climbs back down to collect her booty. This has been going on for at least a couple of years and has resulted in the park service closing that trail. So far, she is the only bear that has demonstrated this technique. The park service is afraid that other bears might learn of it from her.

2 thoughts on “Smarter Than the Average Bear

  1. In my one trip to Yosemite (so far) we made good use of the bear box for storing our food. and then it snowed 10″ over night (we were not in the valley) and MANY people bugged out. Since we couldn’t drive down into the valley without chains, we wandered around the camp sites checking for goodies that others had left behind. Got a box of dry wood from inside a bear box! and a tarp, and a big candle to help light our fire since everything in our fire ring was wet. also, very pretty! and a hike near Hetch Hetchy dam with many waterfalls created by snow melt. all in all, a wonderful trip!

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