It was built to be impenetrable, from its “super rugged transparent polycarbonate housing” to its intricate double-tabbed lid that would keep campers’ food in and bears’ paws out.But of course, they're only animals. Operating from instinct. They certainly don't learn, and teach others, like intelligent creatures do.
Some canisters fail in the testing stage when large bears are able to rip off the lid. But wildlife officials say that Yellow-Yellow, a 125-pound bear named for two yellow ear tags that help wildlife officials keep tabs on her, has managed to systematically decipher a complex locking system that confounds even some campers.
Similar to a childproof medicine bottle, the BearVault 350 and 400 models can be opened by pressing a tab that allows the camper to screw off the lid. But reports began coming in from campers a few years ago that BearVaults were being broken into. State wildlife officials began suspecting Yellow-Yellow, one of a number of bears they have tagged and tracked as a way of studying the behavior of the more than 5,000 bears roaming the Adirondacks.
In most BearVault break-ins, Yellow-Yellow’s radio collar indicated she had been in the area. Eventually, campers began spotting her from afar rifling canisters. There have been no reports of her threatening anyone.
So last year Mr. Hogan introduced the 450, a two-pound cylinder costing about $60, and a larger version, the 500, each with a second tab. On them, a camper must press in one tab, turn the lid partway, then press the second tab to remove the lid. “We thought, ‘O.K., well, one bump didn’t work so maybe two bumps will thwart her,’ ” he said.
But Yellow-Yellow figured that lid out, too.
Last month, her achievements were noted in an article in Adirondack Explorer. And she now appears to have apprentices; campers have reported seeing other bears getting into their BearVaults.
It is not certain exactly how Yellow-Yellow plundered campers’ Italian sausages and granola bars, but she apparently depresses one tab with her teeth, turns the lid, uses her teeth on the second tab, and then opens it.
Ben Tabor, a state wildlife technician who has tracked Yellow-Yellow, said the evidence on the canister supports that theory. (He watched her tackle a BearVault two years ago, although he was too far away to determine her method. ) He doubts, however, that she has out-of-the-ordinary intelligence. “I don’t think she’s smarter than most bears,” he said. “I think she’s had more time to learn.”