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Yes: Bears Can Break Into Your Car

Colorado Parks and Wildlife urges drivers to lock their vehicles and remove food after bear breaks into eight cars in one night.

The burglar who struck Estes Park, Colorado, on August 6 moved quickly, checking cars to see if they were unlocked. When they found a vehicle that hadn’t been secured, they popped the door and rummaged through. The burglar wasn’t especially careful, scuffing the leather seats and leaving dirty prints on the mats, and they didn’t bother trying to steal the cars. With no thumbs, it would have been hard to drive them anyway.

The mystery thief was a black bear, and according to state wildlife officials it got into eight cars in this gateway town to Rocky Mountain National Park. Its goal was probably food, though according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) not all of the vehicles contained it. The cars’ owners are the latest to learn a hard lesson about bears: Even when confronted by modern technology, they’re a lot smarter than most people think.

In many ways, last week’s victims got lucky. Bears regularly break into cars in Colorado—484 times between 2019 and 2020, according to CPW—and the damage they cause can be astronomical. Just days after the incident in Estes Park, a mother bear became trapped in a car in Colorado’s Garfield County; by the time a sheriff’s deputy managed to let her out, she had completely destroyed the vehicle’s interior, tearing off the interior panels from the door and shredding the ceiling and upholstery, leaving wires dangling and littering the car with foam stuffing. Sometimes, the heists are even more dramatic than that: In October 2o19, a bear in Boulder County got into a Subaru Outback and proceeded to shift it into neutral, rolling it 100 feet down a hill and into a tree.

Often, small precautions are all it takes to foil hungry bruins. CPW notes that all of the eight vehicles ransacked last week were unlocked, meaning that all the bears had to do to open the door was pull the handle. Other easy steps to prevent a bear burglary include removing all food and smellables from your vehicle, as finding food in a car once can teach bears that vehicles are good sources of chow. In some areas, however, even locking your car may not be enough: Yosemite prohibits visitors from leaving food or other scented items in their vehicles overnight. In that case, go for a bear locker, canister, or other approved storage container.