A sweet-toothed bear bulking up for his long winter snooze has been tormenting and terrorizing Bailey's Coney Island hot dog stand with nonstop Dumpster attacks.
"We've always had visits from bears occasionally, but nothing like it's been the last couple of months," said Stephanie Henkel, general manager for the hot dog-shaped diner. "He sometimes comes four times a week and as many as four times in a night. We've had the bear show up at 5 p.m. with people eating in the courtyard."
Wildlife officials say bears are voraciously hungry this time of year as they ready for winter hibernation.
"They have to eat 20,000 calories a day in order to pack on enough pounds to make it through hibernation," said Jennifer Churchill, spokeswoman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "I think it would be really hard for a bear to resist a wonderfully, deliciously smelling, high-caloric hot dog or hamburger in the garbage, because they want to pack on the pounds."
Henkel said the bruin also chows down half-eaten ice cream and milk shakes in the Dumpster.
"Everything sweet we throw in there -- he just loves it," Henkel said.
Aside from alarming diner staff and patrons, the roughly 400-pound black bear has repeatedly ransacked the Dumpster, spreading garbage into neighbors' yards.
Diner workers have reinforced the plastic Dumpster lid with two-by-four boards and trucking straps, but the hefty invader just jumps up and down until the lid caves in.
"One time he even trapped himself in the Dumpster," Henkel said. "He got out by ripping through the Dumpster lid with his claws and pulling it down ... He's one big bear."
DOW officials suspect more than one bear is feasting at Coney Island. So they plan to install motion-sensor cameras to photograph how many culprits exist.
"We haven't really seen any aggressive behavior on the part of any of the bears that have been coming by there. So we've been just trying to work through the normal bear-deterrence with the folks," Churchill added.
If bears do threaten people, DOW can act to trap and euthanize them.
"Unfortunately, the bears are being rewarded by constantly getting food (at the hot-dog stand). So it's impossible to stop a bear from coming back if gets rewarded each time it gets into the garbage," she said.
"The real cure is for everyone to do everything they can to bear-proof their garbage cans and put away your summer bird feeders," Churchill said, so the critters don't associate people and buildings with food.
Henkel said she's asked her garbage service provider for a bear-proof Dumpster, but they want to charge more for it.
Meanwhile, diner employees have tried every trick and bear counter-measure DOW has suggested.
Wildlife officials have already set up a pepper-spray booby trap near the Dumpster.
"When the bear pulls on the bait, he gets a shot of bear-spray right in the face. And he just loves that. He still comes back," Henkel said. "We've shot him twice with rubber buck bullets that the DOW gave us. That didn't work at all. He doesn't care."
Henkel stayed up one night hosing the bear with a hot-sauce cannon that sprays 30 feet.
"It doesn't hurt bears, it just makes them burn a little bit. He came four times that night and we shot him four times with hot sauce and he still came back every time," Henkel said.
Now, a neighbor has complained about the strewn garbage and police have warned the eatery they'll be ticketed if the littering doesn't stop.
Henkel stressed she doesn't want the bear killed. But she has asked if DOW could relocate the animal.
Churchill said moving bears isn't a solution.
"Animals know where to find everything they need in their territory, just like humans know where our home is, where the Safeway is and our dry cleaners. So most relocated animals make a beeline back to their territory," Churchill said.
While the looming hibernation should give Coney Island a bear break, Henkel believes the hungry bear will return with the spring thaw.
"As soon as he comes out of hibernation he's just going to be right back and he's going to be even more hungry, because he's skinny after spending the whole winter in hibernation," Henkel said.
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