One night 10 years ago, I was working in Upper Pines Campground with my partner for the night when we caught up to a bear and we, along with two wildlife techs, chased him out of the campground. At one point, he turned around and did a two-step bluff charge toward all four of us. I remember thinking that this bear wouldn’t live long if he kept behaving this aggressively. (He was also typically in the campgrounds just after dark, entering campsites with people active in them and grabbing food.) This was Yellow 28.

The next year, we expanded our repertoire of bear-scaring techniques to include a shotgun from which we could shoot rubber slugs, bean bags, and rubber buckshot. This has had a wide range of effects on different bears’ behavior, from bears completely changing their behavior and nearly always avoiding people and developed areas to having almost no effect at all. Yellow 28 was nearer the good end of that spectrum. After a few experiences with the shotgun, he was incredibly easy to chase away and he began his campground exploits after midnight instead of 8 or 9 pm. His focus became on checking for unlatched lockers (as mentioned in a previous post) and eating lots of food from those he found that were unlatched.

At some point, he lost his tags, but a bear matching his description and behavior continued to visit Yosemite Valley’s campgrounds from time to time. And, this bear has gotten very large. We haven’t trapped him in probably a half-dozen years, but his last weight was 342 pounds and he looks considerably larger these days (probably more than 400 pounds, which is very large for a Yosemite bear).

These days, the bear we strongly suspect to be Yellow 28 (if he is, indeed, Yellow 28) is 23 years old, which is very old for a wild bear in a non-hunted population. Indeed, when we see him, as I have a few times in the past week, we can tell how old and arthritic he is… we have to slow down when chasing him away or we’ll catch up to him. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve literally walked behind him yelling instead of running after him; he can’t go any faster. (Granted, I am a fast walker, but still.) He doesn’t go any faster when hit with a bean bag from the shotgun, either, as I saw last year.

In case you’re wondering what happens if we don’t slow down but keep on trying to chase him faster, I’ll tell you. A few years ago in Housekeeping Camp, I was chasing him and was realizing I was catching up and getting closer than I usually do when he stopped, turned around, and bluff charged me quite closely. Luckily, this has happened to me several times over the years and I was able to stand my ground and keep on yelling (for the first time ever for such a close bluff charge).

In any case, it’s rare when we can think of a specific bear that we saved through good human-bear management practices, and Yellow 28, if he is this Big Slow Bear, is one of them. Ten years and counting…

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