Rural Legends?

7:28 p.m. on May 11, 2013 (EDT)
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Has anyone directly heard about momma bear sending baby bear up the tree to dive-bomb the bear bag? I really want to believe...

8:08 p.m. on May 11, 2013 (EDT)
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Yes, and a ranger friend has shown me photos of the cubs in the act. They do this for counter-balance bear bags. Single-hang bags are more commonly brought down by the bear chewing and clawing the rope at the tie-off point, or sometimes yanking and jumping on the rope to pull the bag up over the branch or the hanging cable. They were well-known around the Yosemite area even back in the 1960s and 70s. We referred to them as "kamikaze bears". My brother-in-law lost all the food for him and his son in the south end of Lyell Canyon to such an incident. The really bad part of that was that his son was about 10 at the time, and they were halfway between re-supply points (close to 2 days at their pace).

One other incident common in the 60s was the "mugger bears". These bears would wait alongside the trail. When a backpacker or small group would come by, the bear would step out from the bush and stand on his hind legs. There were few reports of aggressiveness, just standing up was all it took most of the time for the startled hiker to drop his pack and run. The bear would then drag the pack off to rip it open or just tear it apart on the trail. One friend and climbing-partner of mine and his then-girlfriend encountered such a bear in Little Yosemite Valley. Mike, being the ornery cuss he could be, started waving his hands in the air and yelling. The bear just dropped to all fours and ambled off into the bushes. I have seen a couple variations on this myself. Barb and I were camped at one of the campgrounds along the Tioga Road, just outside Yosemite. The guy in the campsite next to us had caught some fish, cleaned them in the stream  (a BIG no-no), and laid the fish on the picnic table. The two young male cubs who were roaming the campground ambled into the campsite, hopped on the table, resulting in the whole family running screaming out of their campsite, and the bears carted the fish back down to the stream and into the woods on the other side.

There is less of this now, since problem bears are trapped and "re-located" to distances far from the tourist areas. If they are caught a 3rd time, the usual practice is either to put them in a zoo to use for bear container testing or, unfortunately, put them down.

I don't know if the kamikaze bear phonomenon ever happened outside the Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon NP and Inyo National Forest areas, though. But it has been pretty well documented in the Sierra, including photos. The learning of which cars are easy targets is also well-documented, with several videos on the Web.

6:50 a.m. on May 12, 2013 (EDT)
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In my lifetime of camping I have never had a food hang robbed by a bear.  And I know my camp is frequented by bears almost every multi-day trip I take.  Perhaps it is the particular hang method I use.  The only instances I know of where bears got hold of hanging food were poorly executed hangs, such as insufficient clearance between the food and a point the bear can use to reach it.  I have seen photos similar to those that Bill describes, but the person sharing them with me didn’t take them, nor did they or anyone they knew actually meet the alleged photographer.  Thus I wonder of the photos' authenticity.  I know bears are intelligent, but if they can muster the kind of teamwork implicit in a momma/baby food hang heist, then why haven’t there been any more mundane observations of similar teamwork, such as systematic, cooperative, snatching of fish from a stream, or ferreting critters from their burrows?  Needless to say, I remain skeptical.


8:09 a.m. on May 12, 2013 (EDT)
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OK, but what about cow tipping?

10:49 a.m. on May 12, 2013 (EDT)
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The general consensus amongst biologists is that bears have the intelligence of a three year old human. Certain bears in certain situations have been known to work out situational problems in order to obtain food. And sows do spend the first few years teaching their cubs to hunt and forage. But, even so, I remain mostly skeptical.

10:50 a.m. on May 12, 2013 (EDT)
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The photos I was shown were taken by the rangers. I will note that the only area I have heard of the kamikaze bears and mugger bears is in and around Yosemite. This is also the main area I have heard of the selective car breakins.

Like Ed, in all the years I have been in the woods and hills, I have never lost anything to bears, even though people camped within 50 yards have been raided. I have lost food to marmots, mice, "minibears" (chipmunks), and raccoons, though. One was in the Bugaboos. We were back at the car, loading for the drive out. I turned my back to grab the next bag and turned around to see a marmot running off with a food bag. The worst was getting home to find a chipmunk in the top pocket flap of my pack, dead. Since I had put the pack in the roof box and driven across the Central Valley on a hot summer day, the chipmunk was pretty "ripe". It took a lot of washing to get the smell out.

11:46 a.m. on May 12, 2013 (EDT)
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I have heard black bears tend to be more crafty due to being in the North American habitat for a 1,000,000 years, rather than the 'visiting' brown bears of 100,000. You know what they say about climbers...

1:26 p.m. on May 12, 2013 (EDT)
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In May 1988, I was in upper Yosemite, near Cathedral Peak. We had panned on a week of climbing and hung food from the only available tree big enough. A sow with two cubs came into the camp and the cubs went up the tree. The one closest to the food bag, never jumped on the food bag that I saw, but they did get it eventually, the other cub bawling the entire time because his/her sibling was bogarting the prize. After everything we could think of to dissuade them, and then having the mama do two or three bluff charges, we decided to go for an EARLY climb. When we got back the stuff sack was eaten to the draw string, the tent and other gear undisturbed, and my billy pot(which I still have) had the sow's teeth marks in it. On the way out, a ranger said that at that time, some of the bears were not hibernating because they could find food all year. Bears learn, they are opportunistic feeders. I don't doubt that a small bear might jump onto a food bag if it thought it would work to get the food.

June 18, 2018
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