Does A Bear Drive In The Woods?

Three different bears broke into three different cars in Northern California recently. They learn how to open the doors, but they're not so good at getting out. Host Rachel Martin speaks with Anne Bryant, the executive director of the Bear League in Tahoe, Calif., a nonprofit group that helps keep bears safe in the wild.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, to a question you have probably never asked yourself: How do you get a bear out of a parked car? And more to the point, how does it get in there in the first place? In the Northern California town of Truckee, three different bears broke into three different cars over the past few weeks. It is a true story. Anne Bryant is the executive director of the Bear League in Tahoe, California. It's a not-for-profit volunteer group set up to help keep bears safe in the wild. She joins us now on the line. Hi, Anne.

ANNE BRYANT: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So, how does this happen? These bears are not ripping their way through a convertible roof or breaking windows. How do they get in the cars?

BRYANT: The bears have all learned through the years how to open car doors. They either use their paws or their teeth and they simply open up the door. They go in, in case there might be a delicacy in there. Maybe somebody dropped a French fry under the seat. But once they get in, quite often unfortunately, the door shuts behind them. And then you've got a trapped bear inside of a car and it's not a pretty sight.

MARTIN: So, they either do this with their teeth or their paws. Is it not the same skill set to get out of the car as it is to get in the car?

BRYANT: No. Once they get in, they're entrapped and they panic. And then in trying to find their way out, they rip the car apart.

MARTIN: They've learned this trick? I mean, how does a bear figure this out?

BRYANT: Well, they have all learned how to get into the car because there's a knob on the outside, you know, and they've watched people do it. What's happening here in Tahoe, and I think probably all over in bear country, is that bears are evolving faster than humans are and they're taking over. I mean, they have learned to open peanut butter jars, whereas 10 years ago they'd smash them to get the peanut butter inside. Now, they simply turn the lid off.

MARTIN: Oh, my. OK. So, it's part of your job to help get these bears out of these cars they're trapped in, that they're trapped in. How do you do this?

BRYANT: Well, we will respond as fast as we can, but normally the easiest way to do it, as soon as the owner realizes there's a bear in there - sometimes the bear is honking the horn, the car is shaking back and forth, you know, you can tell something's going on - just go open the door and they run off.

MARTIN: So, if you live in Truckee or in the area, what is the best advice to stop a bear from getting into your car in the first place?

BRYANT: Lock it. It's real simple.

MARTIN: Anne Bryant is the executive director of the Bear League based in Tahoe. If you ever find a bear in your Buick and want help getting him out, you can reach the Bear League at 530-525-PAWS. Anne, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you, Rachel. It was a delight. You have a good day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOGI BEAR THEME")

CHORUS: (Singing) Yogi Bear is smarter than the average bear. Yogi Bear is always in the ranger's hair. At a picnic table, you will find him there...

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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