Post by Eliza Barclay, The Salt at NPR Food (3/6/2014)
One of the great joys of camping out in a national park is chowing down by the fire. But campers aren't the only ones drawn to burgers and s'mores roasting over an open flame, beneath a mass of twinkling stars.
Those rich aromas can also prove irresistible to the local critters. From bears to foxes to coyotes, biologists have documented wildlife getting irrevocably hooked on our food and food waste. And for good reason: Our food is way more calorie-rich — and thus, better for making babies — than the standard black bear fare of insects and leaves.
As the number of visitors to national parks has grown over time, the animal residents have gotten increasingly crafty about getting their paws and hooves on our food. And we're talking antics far more aggressive than Yogi Bear sneaking away with a pic-a-nic basket.
Wild ponies of Assateague Island National Seashore are known to use their teeth to unzip tents to pilfer for chips and hot dogs. The black bears of Yosemite have ripped the doors off of cars for a taste of hamburger meat within.
This kind of behavior is both a nuisance and a recipe for conflict. According to one 2013 study, black bears in Yosemite caused $3.7 million in property damage, injured 50 people and were involved with more than 12,000 reported food-related incidents in the last two decades. And biologists say that the greediest animals, who stop at nothing to get our food, are also the most likely to be killed by us.