It is a camper's worst nightmare.
The tent pitched, you wander away for a hike or a swim, only to return and discover that hungry bears have infiltrated the campsite.
That was the scene that Laura Promer, visiting from Birmingham, Ala., with her family, encountered this morning as two black bears successfully pried food from a lawn chair, a tent and a cooler.
"I didn't think a bear could open a cooler," Ms. Promer said as she watched the ransacking continue.
The bears were real, but luckily for the Promer family, the scenario wasn't.
They were on hand this morning to witness a camping safety demonstration presented by the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. For the past three years, Pittsburgh's zoo, inspired by a similar program at a zoo in Minnesota, has been illustrating what havoc bears can wreck at a campsite if food is not properly stored, said bear keeper Mo Brown.
The zoo's two black bears -- 22-year-old Susan and 27-year-old Stanley -- seemed happy to provide the lesson in safe camping within their enclosure.
Stanley bit into a lawn chair while Susan gnawed at a cooler filled with honey and raisins. It took her a few minutes, but she eventually managed to pop the cooler open. She finished eating the cooler's contents, ate a fish from a small pool inside her enclosure, and then moved on to searching the tent, not stopping until she had torn it completely apart and knocked down the poles.
Ms. Promer's family goes camping once a year and has never encountered bears, but she said she had no idea a bear would cause so much destruction to a campsite.
"I pictured her going into the tent, eating and coming out, not destroying the tent," she said.
If a bear can smell food, she will be persistent in finding it, Mr. Brown said.
"Almost anything edible is on the table for them," he said.
Campers can protect their campsites from bears by not leaving out food or garbage and disposing of trash in campsite waste cans or in a container with a sturdy lid. Ideally, food and beverages should be stored inside a closed vehicle.
Kaitlynn Riely: 412-263-1707 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This story originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe, go to http://press.post-gazette.com/ First Published July 2, 2012 7:45 PM