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‘Bear Tracker’ Helps Keep Humans, Bears Safe in Yosemite

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK -- Four-million people visit Yosemite National Park every year, but 95 percent of the park is still undeveloped wilderness, home to 400 animal species -- including hundreds of California black bears.

Bears are known for their remarkable sense of smell and constant drive to find food, wherever they can get it.

Park visitors have a lot to bear in mind when it comes to properly storing food.

"Yeah I really don't want to wake up one morning and have one in my camp site," Yosemite camper Gene Jenkins said.

What if you could see ahead of time if a bear was heading your direction? Jennifer Miller with the Yosemite Conservancy, a non-profit dedicated to helping preserve the national park, says park biologists now have the power to track the bears in real time.

"Well it's a wonderful tool, and conservancy donors have helped fund the special GPS trackers designed for bears," Miller told FOX40.

When bears get a little too close around people in Yosemite, biologists can tranquilize them, give them a physical, then fit them with tracking collars and release them back to the wild.

"This is a great tool for managing the bears, and also for visitor education," park spokesperson Scott Gediman said.

Gediman explains if the management team sees on their computer monitor that a collared bear is heading into a developed area, team members can respond quickly, and use noise to scare the animal into the woods, conditioning the bears to stay wild.

"And if we can keep the wildlife wild, keep the visitors safe and having a good time, then it's great for everybody," he said.

The same technology biologists use to track the bears is available to the general public, online, but there is a catch.

"The information that's put onto the website is delayed, so the location of the bears are protected," Miller said.

"By delaying the location and delaying where they are, it gives people an opportunity to see where they've been, but it also prevents the opportunity for somebody to say, 'Oh, that's where a bear is,'" Gediman said.

Still, there's a lot we can all learn by visiting the Bear Tracker. The red locators show you where Yosemite bears were hit by cars in 2016. Sadly, those accounted for about two dozen incidents. The brown locators represent active GPS collared bears within the park.

Even though the information is delayed by an undisclosed number of days, users can follow the green lines to see where a bear has traveled, and can find out how far.

Some visitors FOX40 spoke with wish they could access the real-time tracking, while others are glad the information is delayed on the website, to help minimize contact between people and bears.

It's all part of the ongoing goal of making park visitors more bear aware. Camp host Donna Reed teaches the do’s and don’t’s every day.

"And if you keep your campsite clean and neat, you're not gonna have a problem," Reed said.

That means properly storing all food and trash in bear-proof receptacles throughout the park. Nothing in your vehicles, nothing in your tents.

And if you do see one of these Yosemite natives, Gediman says to keep your distance, and appreciate one of the most fascinating animals in one of the most majestic places on the planet.