Think you’re smarter than a…

Think you’re smarter than a bear?

On this slow news day (tomorrow the political onslaughts start), a bit of backpacking lore.

Backpackers go into areas where bears are.  Bears are attracted to the smells of backpacker food.  Thus started the continuing battle of wits between backpacker and bear.  Y’see, not only do backpackers not want to be two days out in the wilderness and have a bear, oh, destroy their backpacks and eat all their food, this isn’t healthy for the bear either.

Bears that get habituated to humans and their food lose their fear of humans.  Not good for either side.  Plus, it can’t be good for the bear to, say, eat six of your sports bars, wrapper and all, then pass the wrappers.  Ouch.

Oh yes, bears like sports bars.  Toothpaste too.  Actually, they’ll eat most anything.  Peanut butter is a special favorite (both for backpackers and bears). So, how do backpackers stop bears grabbing their food?

For a while, backpackers tried elaborate schemes like counter-balancing bundles of food high in a tree. This worked for a while, until bears learned to send  cubs up to get the food or have mama bear jump up and down on the branch until it breaks, sending the food bundles crashing to the ground.  Smart, huh?

Bear canisters do work.  These are barrel-like contraptions made of plastic that bears can neither break or open.  Just don’t leave it next to a cliff or a river lest the bear bats it away someplace you can’t get to.  Many bears have learned to ignore bear canisters.  They walk past them at campsites, knowing it’s pointless to try to open them.  Learned behavior.

One really cool way to chase bears away from campsites is the amazing, fearless Karelian bear dog.  Karelians were bred to track bear.  Although they only weigh about 50 pounds, they will attack bears and are too fast for the bear to hit.  So, some large campsites now have Karelians, who, when needed (and leashed) will chase bears out of the camp.

The best way to keep bears away is to keep food in a canister.  This is good for the bear, and for you.   Me, I’m waiting for the first bear to learn that a sharp rock smashed against a bear canister will shatter it.  Then the game starts anew.

PS: The above is generally meant for black bear.  Grizzlies are a whole different deal.  Their Latin scientific name is “Ursus Horribilus”, which should give a hint of their disposition.