The coexistence of bears and nature-loving travelers can beproblematic, especially when savory foods and sticky-fingeredchildren are involved. It's widely known that black bears raidtrash cans, break into cars and homes, and swipe food fromunwitting campers. Less apparent are the drivers behind the burlyburglars' selective foraging decisions; that is, until now. Theobjective of a recent study was to uncover the foragingproclivities of black bears in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Amongother findings, the study revealed that these bears have quite apenchant for raiding minivans, above all other autos.

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The findings appeared in "Selective Foraging for AnthropogenicResources By Black Bears: Minivans in Yosemite National Park,"published in the October issue of the Journal of Mammalogy.Researchers gathered information about 908 vehicle break-insperpetrated by stealthy bears in Yosemite National Park between2001 and 2007, taking into account the make and model of eachautomobile, along with factors such as whether food was found inthe vehicle, the severity of food violation, and if food odors werepresent. Vehicles were classified as coupe, minivan, pickup truck,sedan, small car, sports car, SUV, station wagon, or van.

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Data indicated that minivans were the bears' first or secondpreference every year, comprising 26 percent of all reportedincidents. That's despite the fact that they make up only 7 percentof the vehicles parked in Yosemite Valley. When researcherscompared the number of vehicles available to the number torn openby bears, four times more minivans were broken into than would beexpected if they were randomly selected. Close to 40 percent of allviolated automobiles contained food, according to the study'scoauthors Stewart W. Breck, Nathan Lance, and Victoria Sheer. Ofthe nine different vehicle types, the bears selected SUVs second,trashing them 22.5 percent of the time. SUVs account for 22 percentof the cars parked in the valley.

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"There are several non-mutually exclusive hypotheses for whybears selected minivans," Breck said. Chiefly among them is thepossibility that minivans are more likely to "emit food odorsregardless of whether they contained meaningful amounts of food."This is based on the rationale that minivans are designed forfamilies with children, who are "notorious for spilling food anddrink while riding." Another theory is that minivans may bestructurally easier to penetrate than other types of vehicles. Theresearchers observed that bears entering minivans typically did sowith ease, popping open a rear side window with their longclaws.

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The claim ramifications are not entirely clear, although parkstaff tout various education efforts that would reduce theincidence of break-ins and, by extension, claims arising fromrelated damages.

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