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Backpacker Magazine – October 2007

The World's Smartest Bears

Welcome to Yosemite, iconic American landscape, hikers' paradise, and all-you-can-eat home of the wiliest bruins on earth.

by: Steve Howe

Yosemite, Courtesy of Robert Holmes/California Tourism
Yosemite, Courtesy of Robert Holmes/California Tourism

I'm in mild shock to hear that no bears have dropped by. "Oh, they'll show up," says Green 2. "A lot of these groups can't fit all their food in the one locker they get. And some bring kitchen refrigerators and draft beer machines, which usually doesn't work out so well, because bears love beer."

We continue our prowl, sharking through Upper Pines Campground. Green 1, wearing headphones, starts getting agitated. "Orange 15's here, she's right here." We step out and sweep the area with our halogens. Green 2 holds her light steady, shining it down the asphalt lane toward a distant washroom. A medium-sized bear waddles purposefully through the beam. Harassment ensues, thus showing Orange 15 that human surroundings are not rewarding. Technically, this is called aversive conditioning, but tonight it seems more ritual than anything. "Orange 15's a mature 12-year-old female," says Green 2. "She knows the drill."

Sure enough, after a short gallop into Lower Pines, we're standing at an impasse, the wily sow staring out from a barbed-wire thicket of blackberry. During the standoff, three interpretive rangers walk up, keying off their own radio-telemetry. Curious campers gather, attracted by the flat hats, spotlights, and paintball armaments.

One potbellied guy in a tank top tells us that Yellow 20, Tuesday's quarry, "rolled right in here" that morning and approached bacon-frying campers before being chased off. At 1:30 p.m., she'd reappeared at the edge of a nearby meadow, and spent the afternoon napping, rolling around, and "just doing natural stuff, eating those green pinecones. It was neat. Everybody got great pictures."

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Around August of 09 my wife and I had an encounter with White 55. We were eating lunch when she came up behind us and raided our camp. She made off with $60 of Trader Joes and had her self a nice lunch. We had the food been open for less than 2 minutes to set up and she got us. Damn White 55...

Mike C
Jun 18, 2008

Best bear account I have read. I have an encounter everytime I go to Yosemite 2 to 3 times a year. They are so smart. I hear them bang every bear locker until one opens that has not been properly closed. Almost always, it is my next door camping neighbor. Then the whole family gets a bear show while we try to send them away with noise.


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