Yosemite’s Bears Are Raiding Way Fewer Picnic Baskets These Days

Just 13 percent of the bears’ diet comes from human food

Photo: OnceAndFutureLaura

Yogi Bear and his best friend Boo-Boo famously loved to steal picnic baskets. And back when "The Yogi Bear Show" debuted in the 1960s, bears at Yosemite National Park did regularly raid picnic baskets—and garbage cans, and tents, and cars, and backpacks... Bear raids were simply part of many visitors' experience at Yostemite. 

Between 1923 and 1971, the park actually encouraged this behavior, LiveScience reports. Park rangers opened feeding stations to attract bears so that visitors could be guaranteed a close-up look at the animals, and bears who ate human food got, at one point, 27 percent of their diet from human food sources, and, at another, 35 percent.

However, after a record 1,500-plus human-bear conflicts reported in 1998, the park created a stricter set of rules for food storage and educational programs for visitors, LiveScience says, with the goal of reducing encounteres between guests and hungry bears. To see how these efforts worked, researchers analyzed the diets of 200 bears throughout 2001 to 2007 and found that, on average, the portion of bears' diet that came from human had dropped to just 13 percent. Some of the bears the team sampled did not feed on any human food at all.

This is good news for both bears and humans. Park visitors might hope for a glimpse of a bear in theory, but in reality, an encounter with a hungry bear is not fun. And while a picnic-stealing bear might be smarter than average, but, if he's overly enthusiastic, park rangers often have no choice but to make him deader than average, too. 

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