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Your minivan is one big pic-a-nic basket, say Yosemite's black bears

October 15, 2009 |  2:47 pm

MinivanThis just in: Bears (at least, Yosemite National Park's black bears) view your minivan as one big, delicious pic-a-nic basket

A new report in the Journal of Mammalogy has the details of data collected on bear-related vehicle break-ins -- more than 900 of them -- between 2001 and 2007 at Yosemite. Researchers broke the incidents down by vehicle type, comparing the break-in data with available statistics on the types of vehicles that entered the park.

What they found might not be too surprising: Minivans, often filled with jam-handed kids, accounted for 26% of the vehicles broken into by bears. (Next on the list: SUVs, which accounted for 22.5% of the break-ins.  17.1% of the vehicles were small cars, 13.7% were sedans and 11.9% were trucks, The Times' Daily Travel & Deal Blog reports. About 9% of the bear break-ins were distributed among other vehicle types.) 

And it's not just that there were more minivans to break into, according to Nature, which points out that during a single yearlong period during the study (2004-2005), 29% of the break-ins involved minivans -- although they only accounted for 7% of the total vehicles in the park.

Beyond the obvious explanation for their findings -- that "small children in particular are notorious for spilling food and drink while riding in vehicles" -- the report's authors had a few other theories about why the bears might go for minivans above other vehicles. Our colleague Carla Hall has the details on other possible explanations for bear-on-minivan vandalism:

Researchers also suggest that minivan passengers are more prone to leave coolers and bags of food in their cars. The exposed snacks are an invitation to vandalism, because the bears have learned to open the rear side window of a minivan like the pop-top on a soda can.

The report also raises the possibility that the break-ins are the work of just a few recidivist bears; once they realized what a find the minivans were, they targeted them specifically.

According to the Daily Travel & Deal, vehicle break-ins by Yosemite bears reached an all-time high in 1998, when they were believed to have been behind nearly 1,500 incidents. Since then, park officials have worked to increase visitors' awareness about the dangers of leaving food where bears can find it (or smell it), and as of Oct. 3 this year, fewer than 500 incidents of bear break-ins had been logged.

The full report bear break-ins is available at the website of Allen Press, the Journal of Mammalogy's publisher.

RELATED:
Vail woman scares away bear in her home with pillow
Bear climbs ladder to escape Colorado skate park

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: An assembly line of Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans -- or, as we like to call it, a bear buffet. Credit: Jerry S. Mendoza / Associated Press

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