Last week, a curious black bear found itself in a claustrophobic situation after becoming locked inside a SUV in Port Moody, B.C. Just after midnight on Friday, September 13, a homeowner on Ioco Road heard the car alarm of his 2012 Nissan Rogue going off, reported the CBC. When he went to investigate, he came nose-to-nose with a black bear tearing apart his SUV’s interior as it looked for a way out.
The SUV’s doors had been left unlocked, allowing the bear to gain access. The homeowner was not sure how long the bear had been inside, but rather than dealing with it himself, he called 911. The police, with some logistical assistance from B.C. Conservation Service officers, were eventually able to safely release the bear.
While this bear break-in sounds like an abnormal occurrence, Judy Taylor-Atkinson, a member of the Port Moody Bear Aware group, a local, grass roots organization that provides education on bear-human interactions, says that it’s more common than you’d think. “This isn’t the first time it’s happened here in the Lower Mainland. We’ve had quite a few residents have it happen.”
According to Taylor-Atkinson, the reason a bear might go sniffing around a car is because they smell food. “They can smell even the remnants of food in your car,” she says. A bear’s sense of smell is over 2,000 times stronger than a human’s. It doesn’t matter what type of car you have, Taylor-Atkinson says, if there’s food in it, a bear can smell it.
But how the bear got the SUV door open is a more impressive feat. Taylor-Atkinson says bears are very good at learning shapes. This usually involves items like outdoor freezers, garbage cans, and refrigerators. “If a bear has one successful attempt at getting into a freezer or an outdoor fridge, they’re going to be testing every kind of that shape,” she says, especially if they find food.
This pertains to cars as well. “Once a bear figures out how to access a vehicle, they will keep doing it,” Taylor-Atkinson says. The best way to prevent bears from stumbling into your vehicle is to lock the doors when you’re not using it and keep the vehicle inside a closed garage. This goes for outdoor fridges, freezers and garbage cans as well. People should “keep their garbage cans, their refrigerators, and their outdoor freezers secured in the garage or some kind of a bear proof container.”
Taylor-Atkinson stresses that if you are buying a container to keep bears out, make sure it’s bear proof not just bear resistant. “Containers and garbage bins are actually tested with bears,” she says. “If a bear can’t get into it within an hour of trying, it’s bear proof, but if they can break into a bin or storage container in under an hour, but it takes some time, say 30 minutes, then it’s bear resistant.”
Stocking up on bear proof containers, however, can be tiresome and expensive. To avoid interactions with bears entirely, you need to limit the amount of bear attractants around your cottage or home. This means keeping things like garbage, recycling, and dog food inside; disposing of any rotten fruit from fruit trees on your property; clearing berry bushes; avoiding bird feeders—bird feed is a delicacy among bears and provides them with high caloric intake. The smell of gasoline—strangely enough—attracts bears, and anything cooking on the barbecue. “What we recommend is after someone barbecues meat or something that’s really smelly, they should turn the barbecue on high to burn off the remaining smell,” Taylor-Atkinson says.
Fall is a particularly common time for bears to wander into populated areas, making Port Moody’s bear-in-the car no surprise to Taylor-Atkinson. She says this is because bears experience hyperphagia at this time of year. “What that means is they go into high drive. They eat for 20 hours a day. Their caloric consumption goes up. They eat about 20,000 calories a day, all in preparation for hibernation. So, they are extremely food motivated.”
Another factor that could drive bears into populated areas is a berry crop failure. “Bears prefer to find their own natural forage, if possible,” Taylor-Atkinson says. Black bears, in particular, rely heavily on the seasonal cycle of berries like salmon berries and Himalayan blackberries. But if there’s a crop failure, bears are more likely to follow their noses into populated areas in search of food.
If you do encounter a bear on your property, you don’t want to do anything to harm it. Instead, you want to scare it away. “The best thing to do is make some noise, bang some pots and pans together. That’s just called hazing. It’ll scare the bear,” Taylor-Atkinson says. “The idea is to associate humans with noise.”