DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. – We’ve all heard a locked car door is your first line of defense against car break-ins, but you might not realize that applies to break-ins from both humans and bears.
A couple from Castle Pines in Douglas County woke up to the sound of their car horn at 3 a.m. Monday morning, and they called 911 thinking that someone was trying to steal their car from their driveway. Instead, they found a black bear behind the wheel.
“Our bears are really smart,” said Jennifer Churchill, a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “If the door’s not locked and it’s one of those lift-latch doors they can get in there.”
Not only was the car in this case unlocked, the bear had reason to want in.
“Actually smelled some takeout or leftovers from dinner that the folks had left in their car,” Churchill said.
The bear didn’t just tear up the leftover food. It did about $15,000 in damage as it tried, and failed, to find a way out.
“For the most part, when animals are trapped like that, I think they can get pretty stressed out and agitated,” Churchill said. “Just like we would.”
Of course black bear sightings are common in plenty of Colorado neighborhoods, and Churchill says these unintentional bear traps also happen more than you might think.
“A few years ago in Highlands Ranch, a bear got into a car, flipped the emergency break and rolled all the way down a hill in the car,” Churchill said. “It was still locked in when our officer came to get it out.”
In both the Highlands Ranch case and the one on Monday in Castle Pines, Parks and Wildlife officers fixed the problem by simply opening the car door and letting the bear run away.
“I don’t think we’ve ever heard from that bear in Highlands Ranch again,” Churchill said. “I think he took off like a shot. He may be on the west slope by now.”
They believe the bear in Castle Pines will also disappear for good, but Parks and Wildlife wants to remind homeowners in bear-prone neighborhoods that they should keep their windows, doors and cars locked tight, especially now.
“It’s important to keep in mind that this is the time of year,” Churchill said. “Hyperfasia is when the bears need to eat like 10,000 calories a day, in order to pack on pounds to get through their hibernation during the winter.”
Wildlife officials say bears aren’t usually aggressive unless you are standing between them and an exit route.
One more tip: officers say bird feeders are easy targets during this time of year so they suggest leaving them empty from now until Thanksgiving.