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Bear Affair teaches bear smarts in the Northwest

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Bear Affair: Living Northwest Conservation Day is one of our favorite events. Each year in early June, we get to do what we love best: watch our animals enjoy a special day tailored just to them and watch our visitors fall in love with those same animals, learn more about conservation actions they can take right here in the Pacific Northwest, and become stewards for protecting wildlife in Washington. It's also a day we get to celebrate the incredible work our conservation colleagues are doing too, as many of our peers join us by setting up learning opportunities that start on the North Meadow and wind all the way through Northern Trail. Our volunteers come out on this day, as do ZooCorps teens, and everyone from our horticulture staff (providing beautiful flowers for the mock wedding cake and arch) to our dedicated keepers who make sure the animals have a great day (without eating too many coffee grounds or cake). It doesn't get any better than that.

If you missed the event this year, here's a recap of grizzly bears Keema and Denali in action as well as a few tips for bear-safe camping and hiking this summer. Remember that the biggest attractant for any wildlife is food, so whether you are camping or just chilling in the backyard, make a pledge to clean up any food scraps and keep items like barbecues and garbage cans in a place where wildlife won't bother them.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ

This year, we kicked of the event with a backyard wedding theme. We imagined that the celebration had just wrapped up, and the imaginary couple had headed off to their honeymoon, but some of the bridesmaids and groomsmen forgot that they had some cleaning up to we let Keema and Denali show us what they might get into if they stumbled upon this scene.

Curator Jenny Pramuk carries a bear-friendly cake out to set the scene. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ

Our bears are interested in food of course, but they also delight in anything that is new to them, such as the wedding arch or the wedding chairs decorated with bows. Bears are very smart, and can be curious about new things. This is one reason it's a good idea not to wear a ton of perfume or heavily fragrant deodorant on your camping trip in bear country.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ

While many people assume Keema and Denali would tear through the scene as quickly as they could, ransacking the table and slurping up the treats, they are actually pretty methodical, some might even say dainty. The bears strolled up the wedding aisle and made their way to the table, casually sniffing the leftover plates of cake and politely sipping from the cups that guests had left all over the yard. When it comes to bears (and most wildlife), they will choose the path of least resistance to food or enticing items. "They are going to go for the easy pickings first," explained our awesome narrator for the day, educator Janel Kempf. "They'll get to trying the bear-proof recycling bin eventually, but for now they will take their time with checking out the table."

Frosted bear lips. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ.
All in. Photo by John Loughlin, WPZ.

It didn't take too long, however, for things to get a little more bear-tastic. Keema stood on top of the table to get a better angle on the frosting while Denali discovered the barbecue (and the salmon drippings inside)!

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ.

As the barbecue toppled over, it's easy to see how leaving just a little bit of food out can attract these boys to the smell. A grizzly bear can smell traces of food up to twenty miles away, and black bears (like you may encounter in the Pacific Northwest) are just as talented.

Once the barbecue was licked clean they headed for the harder to reach items. Photo by John Loughlin, WPZ.

After the barbecue was licked clean (thanks for taking care of that for us!), the brothers tried getting into the items that were a little trickier, such as the bear-proof recycling bin from Issaquah which has stood the test of time. The bears have never successfully gotten into the bin, despite giving it bear CPR and sometimes sinking it in their pool. A bear-proof garbage can is the best way to stop midnight snacking at the curb.

No matter how they tried, our bears did not get into the City of Issaquah bear-proof bin! Photo by John Loughlin, WPZ.

While they didn't get into the treats in either the bear-proof bins or the bear-safe camping boxes, they did find the Caffe Vita coffee grounds and the Pike Place Market salmon during the second demonstration, which was a mock campsite complete with tent, kayak and plenty of coolers to explore. All were equally appreciated by the 850-lb grizzlies!

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ.

Does it get any better than coffee AND salmon? #PNWISBEST!

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ.

Thanks to all who joined us for a fantastic Bear Affair and a great, SAFE start to camping and hiking season for humans, bears and all wildlife. Remember not to feed wildlife and keep delicious or strongly scented items away from your campsite. Pick up more bear safety tips from our conservation partners at Western Wildlife Outreach.

Just one more nibble from a backpack full of coffee grounds... Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ.

Visit Keema and Denali at the Northern Trail this summer, and learn more on how you can support grizzly recovery in the North Cascades.


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