Black Bears and Television Junkies

This summer, friends who live a few kilometers from us in rural Montana in the western US had to interrupt their dinner when a black bear suddenly came out of the trees. They went indoors to watch as it came up to the picnic table, licked the dishes clean, and then drank two cans of beer.

Over the following days, the bear turned over the garbage cans of two neighbors and terrorized children and pets. Forest Service rangers set up a cage and put some bacon inside, soon catching and transporting the bear 30 kilometers into the wilderness. The bear was tagged before it was released, to show that it had been causing trouble. “Unfortunately,” said the ranger, “that bear may be back here even before our truck returns. Once they develop a taste for bacon and beer, you can't keep them away.” If a tagged bear is caught two or more times causing disruption, the rangers have orders to shoot it.

It is easy to feel sorry for an animal that discovers tasty food and can’t resist getting more the easy way. The bear has no idea that its days are numbered unless it remains in the forest and hunts in the traditional way for its meals. But that bear was following the wisdom natural selection had programmed in its genes: food that is high in proteins and sugars is good for you, and the less energy you expend getting it, the better.

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