If you're a visitor in Yellowstone and really, really want to see a bear, you might check out this Android app called Where's A Bear.
The app is essentially a sighting reporter, on which you can report your own sightings as well as track where animals were last seen. The developers state, "Because the sheer enormity of Yellowstone can be as overwhelming as its beauty, visitors commonly miss out on some of the park's essential attractions, such as its abundant wildlife. Where's A Bear has been created by seasoned Yellowstone enthusiasts who have learned through experience that your mobile phone needs the right kind of app to make your Yellowstone experience that much more unforgettable."
I'm not sure how I feel about this app. I'm a proponent of enjoying wildlife in the national parks from a safe distance when you stumble across it. But having masses of tourists seeking out the bears doesn't feel like a good idea, mainly for the bears. This is one of those instances where just because we have the technology doesn't mean we should use it. In fact, the capability of having and using this app just doesn't seem like a bright idea.
The app provides real-time sightings of not only bears but wolves, elk, moose, deer, bald eagles and other animals. Of those species listed the first four are some you want to stay well away from in the first place. It lists maps and other features, but not how to behave in the presence of these various species (including don't feed them and leave them alone...).
I'm not the only one with reservations. Reported earlier this week on Newsvine:
But not everybody thinks that making a lot of wildlife sighting information readily retrievable by phone is a hot idea. As it is, the crowds that stop to gawk at roadside wildlife in Yellowstone can grow to hundreds of people, pointed out Vicky Kraft, of Pine Mountain, Calif., who maintains a Facebook group about Yellowstone.
Grizzlies are especially challenging for park rangers who have to both direct traffic and keep people a safe distance away.
"It's crazy. There's no parking. People sideswipe each other because they're looking at the bear," Kraft said Monday.
Wildlife becoming too comfortable around people is another concern. A grizzly habituated to people is even more dangerous than your average bear.
"I think there's a responsibility that a person should have if they really like Yellowstone to say, `Gee, is this going to be bad for the animals? Is it bad for the ranger? Is it bad for the park?' And I think when you look at a situation with that app, the answer would have to be yes," Kraft said.
Attempts to reach the app developers through their websites Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful.
That said, there is nothing new in having a website handy that tracks sightings of bears and there is little that will stop tourists from snapping up the opportunity to see a bear spotted near roadsides (hopefully the main places from which the sightings will be reported). This app just puts the information on your phone and you can only access new sightings when you actually have cell phone reception. With luck anyone using it will know to keep food, and themselves, well away from the wildlife.
What do you think -- is technology that brings us closer to wildlife a good thing, or bad? Leave your thoughts in the comments.