If you go down to Yosemite today, you’ll be in for a big surprise as well as a stern telling off (#StayAtHome). The park has been closed to visitors in accordance with the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures, closing the gates to a national park that on average sees 4-5 million visitors a year.
Devoid of human interference, rangers have reported the park seems to be blossoming with black bears. Without any cars on the roads, there's been a surge in sightings as the uninhibited bears strut around in the open, making it easier to get an accurate idea of their numbers.
The Yosemite National Park was closed on March 20, allowing access to the site of national beauty to the park’s rangers only. For the lucky rangers, what must’ve been an already incredible exclusive access experience just got better, as wildlife thrives in the quiet conditions. Usually shy and elusive species such as bears, coyotes, and bobcats have all been spotted strolling around out in the open. The park has corridors for its wildlife where, when the park is open, they can move around away from the paths and visiting public. Now that they’re no longer wary of cars, however, the animals are taking back the park, so to speak, and have even been spotted near Yosemite village, a small town near the nature reserve.
The most dramatic change has been seen within their black bear population, as sightings of these elusive animals have surged since the lockdown measures were put in place. The lockdown has only been established for just under a month, so this boom in numbers isn’t the result of some sort of hyperspeed baby boom but instead bears are returning to open areas as they no longer feel threatened.
In a Facebook live video, one of a series the park is hosting online, Ranger Katie explained why the bears appeared to be having a bit of a “party” now that visitor numbers are down. “There can be literally walls of cars, stop-and-go traffic or people in the park,' she said in the video. “So, for the bears, they normally have [to] pick through these little corridors that they have to move through in the valley to get from Point A to Point B... 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.”
Dane Peterson, a hotel worker from Yosemite village said in an interview to the LA Times that sightings of bears, bobcats, and coyotes had gone up so much that it seemed like their population had quadrupled. “It's not like they aren't usually here. It's that they usually hang back at the edges or move in the shadows.”
In light of the bear’s bold behavior, park officials have shared concerns as to what might happen when visitors return to the park once lockdown is lifted. It’s safer for both the bears and tourists if the animals remain wary of humans and vehicles and it remains to be seen how this will play out when the bear party ends.