In wildlife work, happy endings, feel-good stories and grand conclusions can be elusive. The story of the bear that went viral across the country for its shenanigans unfortunately ended tragically.
Such is the case with the “Kings Beach Bear,” the big black bear that made national news in 2020 by entering local businesses on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore in search of food and crashing Kings Beach get-togethers, sending partygoers fleeing and helping itself to birthday cake and other treats. In the end, the ultimate fate of the animal also known as the “Safeway Bear” or the “Chevron Bear” is a lesson why securing food and preventing bear-human interactions is so important.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) scientists recovered the bear’s GPS tracking collar April 6 deep within the Stanislaus National Forest, near Beardsley Reservoir in Tuolumne County. The bear’s collar was completely intact, clasped closed and lying on the forest floor about 27 air miles southwest of CDFW’s Leek Springs Ecological Reserve in El Dorado County, where the bear was originally released Sept. 6, 2020.
In a best-case scenario, the bear successfully transitioned to a natural diet and life in the wild, losing winter weight that allowed the GPS collar to come free. In a worse-case scenario, the old bear – estimated at more than 15 years old – was unable to adjust, lost weight and died.
The ultimate fate of the Kings Beach Bear proved much more tragic and traumatic.
In early August, a CDFW biologist and wildlife officer responded to calls of a large black bear shot and killed at a campground in Alpine County near Hermit Valley.
A large family with many small children was camping in the area when a large black bear approached their campsite repeatedly during the early evening and late hours of the night. Multiple attempts to haze the bear and shoo it away proved unsuccessful.
The campsite was clean and the family had properly stored and secured their food and garbage. Fearing for its safety, the family shot and killed the bear when it approached their campsite yet again – and reported the shooting to officials. The family was distraught when CDFW showed up to investigate.
At the scene, CDFW officials saw the 1274 orange tag in the bear’s right ear, identifying it unmistakably as the Kings Beach Bear. The bear – once weighing more than 500 pounds – was a shell of its former self, completely emaciated, its teeth rotten.
As one CDFW biologist later said, “Ultimately, the actions of the shooter was the most humane outcome for this bear.”
CDFW wildlife officers ruled the shooting justified. And CDFW biologists now have more empirical evidence and a rather traumatic case study about the ability of human food-conditioned bears to successfully transition to life in the wild.
For tips and best practices to keep Tahoe’s bears from becoming accustomed and dependent on human food sources, visit Keep Tahoe Bears Wild. Additional information and resources are available at CDFW’s Keep Me Wild: Black Bear webpage.