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Black Bear Facts | Yosemite Wildlife Guide

Black bears in Yosemite National Park have provided a fascinating case study in human-wildlife interaction and how to turn an animal into a problem.

Over the years, the bears in the park became more and more used to acquiring a significant amount of their food every summer from campers, a process known as “food conditioning.” They lost their fear of humans and came to see them as a food supplier, which is not the relationship most people want to have with a 250 pound animal with large teeth and claws. Some of the bears in the busier campgrounds even learned to open car doors and trunks to access food that was properly stored! In 1997, the peak of human-bear conflict, bears broke into more than 600 cars. Not good.

It is never wise to encourage bears to associate humans with food, and since the 1990s, parks across the country have put great effort into re-educating visitors about the fact that a food-conditioned bear is likely to get in trouble and be relocated or, in extreme situations, be euthanized.

Park management knew that the most important actions they could take were educating visitors, providing bear-proof food storage for campers and “hazing” bears that were active in developed areas. This combination reduced conflicts by over 90% by 2013. A 2014 study found that the traces of human food found in isotopes in bear fur and bones had dropped by 63% compared to the 1970s and 1980s.

These improvements are a win for both humans and bears.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Only some of the 300 - 500 black bears in Yosemite are black in color – the rest are brown, blonde or cinnamon. This results in occasional mistaken stories of people “seeing” brown bears, or grizzlies, in the park. However, the last grizzly bear in Yosemite was shot in the early 1920s.

On average, black bears are much smaller than grizzlies, with males rarely weighing more than 300 pounds, and females topping out at about 200 pounds.

BEHAVIOR & FEEDING HABITS

Black bears are omnivores. Their generalized diet has enabled them to be successful in many ecosystems, making them the most widespread bear species in the world. In fact, there are more black bears in the world than all other bears combined. They seem to be equally happy feeding from a berry patch, a camper’s cooler or a suburban garden. Their activity levels peak in the fall as they eat almost continually to consume 20,000 calories per day to prepare for their winter hibernation. Most black bears are in their dens by the end of December.
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