The other night, I arrived at Housekeeping Camp, got out of my vehicle, and immediately heard all sorts of yelling. I could tell they were yelling at a bear. So, I ran over to the nearby unit and saw a crowd of about 30 people surrounding a bear who was eating out of a food locker. And, it wasn’t just any bear, but the Big Slow Bear. Despite several minutes of yelling on the part of these folks, the bear was ignoring them and eating. As soon as I came up, he took off and I chased him without any problem. While many people don’t really make that much noise when trying to scare a bear, this group was doing a decent job, but the bear didn’t care.

Before I was involved in the bear program, I used to hear that bears recognized the rangers. The theory was that bears would see the uniform and/or the hat. Many bear team members don’t wear ranger hats routinely, and don’t always wear the typical uniform (or any uniform at all, in certain cases). So, I don’t think bears necessarily recognize rangers and run more quickly when they see one. Of course, given their incomprehensibly good sense of smell, perhaps they smell the rangers that they’ve met before and, therefore, run more quickly. This may be true, but I still don’t completely buy it.

I remember another case, with a bear I spent many years working with–Orange 5. One evening, a bunch of people in a North Pines campsite couldn’t scare her away. (We were in Lower Pines, so we ran all the way back to our vehicle, drove over to North Pines, only to find, upon arrival, that she had swum back over to Lower Pines.) She had been hard to scare from a campsite there (despite lots of noise and lights), yet when we finally caught up to her in Lower Pines, she ran immediately when our flashlight’s beam hit her–as if she recognized that bright flashlights were associated with those annoying rangers.

So, perhaps bears do recognize certain things as being associated with more dominant people (i.e., rangers).

But, really, I think more than anything, bears can read our minds. They can tell when someone means, “GET OUT OF HERE, BEAR!!!” vs. “uh. um, bear? please leave? please?” I think it’s not just the volume of the yelling, but the confidence with which the yelling is yelled. (And yelling with words seems more effective than just shouting–maybe because more emotion is conveyed?) I’m not sure if both volume and confidence are required (maybe next time I run into this bear, I’ll try my normal yell at a low volume and see what happens).