June 2010


Despite having many bear stories, I’m always at a loss to tell one when someone asks me for my best/favorite/coolest/most exciting bear story. The other day, I realized that one of the stories I don’t tell very often is one of my favorites (and involves one of my favorite bears).

One the night of July 4, 2007, I was using radio telemetry to try to catch up to a bear known as Orange 5. As I got closer, I finally caught a glimpse of her in the distance, in an Upper Pines campsite. There was a man in the campsite, standing not more than a few feet from his picnic table, with his back to the picnic table. He was doing something like washing dishes–I don’t remember exactly.

Yes, there was Orange 5 and a man in the same campsite together. Orange 5 put her paws up onto the picnic table bench and nosed around, looking completely at home, completely unconcerned–like she belonged there, like she was the man’s pet. Yet, she was a mere few feet from this man! I remember watching this several-second episode with some surprise. It was surreal. She was just so comfortable so close to this person!

Not finding anything to eat, she went to the next campsite and did the same thing, before I caught up to her and chased her away.

To this day, the man has no idea he had a 200-pound bear a few feet from him in his campsite!

That is how stealthy, quiet, and sneaky Yosemite’s black bears are.

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A week or so ago, one of the park’s wildlife biologists was driving out of Yosemite Valley when she saw a coyote standing in the middle of the road. This isn’t all that surprising: some coyotes know visitors will feed them if they beg by the road (these coyotes don’t realize they’re more likely to get killed by cars, too).

In any case, as she drove up toward the coyote, the coyote refused to move; this is unusual. Finally, she looked over and saw a bear hiding behind a boulder. Then, the coyote and bear sniffed each other. As she drove off, she looked in her rear-view mirror and saw them touching noses.

Bears and coyotes don’t typically tolerate each other much. I wonder why it was different this time.