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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Bears bite the bullet
black bear full face
A hungry bear is easily tempted
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Black bears in Yosemite National Park in California are being taught the hard way to avoid humans.


Clearly a hamburger or hot dog is a more attractive option than the fish, insects, plants, acorns and other things they would have to search for in the wild

Christine Cowles, Yosemite ranger
They are being shot by park rangers - armed with rubber bullets and acorns.

The rangers hope their unconventional armament will deter the bears from approaching campsites and cars in search of food.

But if they fail, they say, they may resort to loading up with lethal projectiles.

Three bears described as aggressive have already been killed this year. The new approach, called "hazing", is designed to avoid the need for more destruction.

 The BBC's Lisa Holland: "Park wardens say the bears may have to be shoot"

Deterrent effect

Christine Cowles, a Yosemite ranger, said: "This is a technique we're trying for the first time.

bear at car window
Just a routine check
"Rangers shoot rubber bullets and acorns at, or in the general direction of, bears who come out at night near the campsites.

"We also set off firecrackers near the bears, because loud noises usually scare them."

The purpose of hazing is to re-instil the natural fear that bears have of humans, as some animals have learnt to associate people with food.

They do not regard humans as prey in its own right, but as the conveyors of appealing and easily obtained forms of food.

"Clearly a hamburger or hot dog is a more attractive option than the fish, insects, plants, acorns and other things they would have to search for in the wild," said Christine Cowles.

"Human food provides more calories for less effort than, let's say, a bear having to spend all day picking termites out of a log."

Educating visitors

In 1998, the park tried a different way of preventing clashes between bears and visitors. It concentrated then on an education campaign to try to persuade people not to leave food in their cars.

Christine Cowles said: "We were experiencing 20 to 30 car break-ins a night then.

bear outside tents
Caught in the act
"Now that break-ins are down to two or three a week, because food is no longer available in the parking lots, some bears are shifting their attention to the camping grounds."

The problem arises when visitors fail to store their supplies in regulation metal containers and to dispose of waste in animal-resistant rubbish cans.

The park insists that the problem is caused by human carelessness, and the bears themselves are innocent.

Brenda Lackey, a University of Idaho research assistant working on a study at Yosemite, supported the new hazing initiative.

She said: "It's a form of tough love. Like kids, bears need a little bit of discipline for their own good."

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See also:

25 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Sanctuary is a bear necessity
27 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Bears face extinction
29 Mar 00 | Europe
France to send bears home
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