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For Meals On Wheels, Hungry Bears Prefer Minivans

October 14, 2009

If you're eyeing your next vehicle with the classic American family road trip in mind—perhaps a visit to your favorite national park out West—you might want to consider this: Hungry bears overwhelmingly prefer minivans for their next fix.

For reasons not fully understood, at one of the country's most popular national parks, your chances of a bear breaking into your Dodge Grand Caravan minivan are far greater than if you'd chosen a Dodge Journey crossover, for instance.

According to an article in the Journal of Mammalogy, researchers looked into selective foraging habits of black bears in Yosemite National Park and found that, at least there, bears are more likely to target minivans.

The researchers restricted the study to a small portion of the park that has apple orchards and is the most visited by people. Using EPA vehicle classifications, the crew divided vehicles up by body style. Analyzing data by vehicle type based on the 908 bear break-ins in that area from 2001 to 2007, the researchers found that minivans were far more likely to be targeted.

While 29 percent of bear break-ins were to minivans, only seven percent of the vehicles present were minivans. Trucks and sports cars also had a slightly higher ratio of break-ins relative to supply—possibly due to unsecured cargo beds or soft convertible tops.

2009 Dodge Grand Caravan

2009 Dodge Grand Caravan

A few hypotheses were suggested to explain the bears' preference, one of them being the scent of food from minivans due to spills from children. A second hypothesis was better supported—that families were more likely to leave caches of food in minivans, but records from the break-ins included whether food was present and that didn't provide a strong correlation. A third hypothesis suggested that maybe minivans were easier to break into, with bears easily able to pop windows open and twist sheetmetal.

Finally, the researchers suggest that the break-ins favoring minivans could actually just be learned behavior from a few habitual offenders. "Although we have yet to determine why bears choose minivans, our results demonstrate the black bear’s keen ability to adapt to novel food resources and the unpredictable consequences of having bears and people coexist."

[Journal of Mammalogy, via LA Times]

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