What’s the biggest unforeseen side-effect of coronavirus? The bears might inherit the Earth.
Yosemite National Park is currently closed to visitors and staffed by a skeleton crew. That means roads normally clogged with cars, trails normally packed with hikers, and campsites normally occupied by campers are empty, and the wildlife is taking advantage of the extra space. It’s basically the “We are the virus” meme come to life.
Bobcats are wandering next to administrative buildings as coyotes trot down the street. Dane Peterson, who works at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, estimates that he’s seeing four times as many bears as he did last spring.
“It’s not like they aren’t usually here,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s that they usually hang back at the edges or move in the shadows.”
Ranger Katie, a biologist at Yosemite, called the current situation a “party” for the bears.
“There can be literally walls of cars, stop-and-go traffic or people in the park,” she said. “So, for the bears, they normally have pick through these little corridors that they have to move through in the valley.”
“Now that there are no people, the bears are literally just walking down the road to get to where they need to go, which is kind of cool to see.”
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Yosemite National Park is home to about 300-500 black bears. Though there hasn't been an increase in their population since the park closure, bears have been seen more frequently than usual, likely due to the absence of visitors in Yosemite Valley. If you tuned into our Facebook livestream yesterday, wildlife biologist Ranger Katie showed us how Yosemite's bear team uses radio collars to track some of the park's bears, and we picked up the signal of a large male bear in the meadow nearby! Shortly afterward, that same bear was caught on camera by one of our volunteers, who watched from the window of the Rangers' Club as it climbed up a nearby tree. The bear sat high on a branch for a little while and then struggled to decide how to safely get back down, making this one of the more entertaining wildlife sightings we've had this spring! Head over to our Facebook page to view yesterday's livestream, and check out www.KeepBearsWild.org for more information about protecting Yosemite's iconic bears! #Yosemite #NationalPark
Is this the prelude to bears mounting a Planet of the Apes-style takeover? Maybe! If that happens, I, for one, welcome our new ursine overlords.
Without the fumes of cars going in and out of the park, the air is noticeably cleaner. And without the tourists, it’s also much quieter, more like the Yosemite of the 19th century than the 21st.
It’s all enough to make you wonder if, when the parks reopen, if it’s really ethical to visit them. Daniel Kirkwood, a wilderness guide who leads brown bear viewing groups in southeast Alaska, says of course it is, for a couple of different reasons.
“The places the bears feel comfortable going probably expand and contract all the time and we don’t notice. This is such a dramatic one that we’re noticing,” he said. What seems like a seismic change to us isn’t that big of a deal to them.
And if our presence or non-presence isn’t that big a deal to them — which, to be clear, is only true if we’re responsible stewards — then coexistence is preferable to separation.
“Something I’ve always kind of hoped for is this idea that we can break down the line between there is nature and there are cities, there is human stuff and there is non-human stuff,” he said. National parks are an example of humans and animals living in relative harmony, so you should definitely get the family into nature once this pandemic subsides.