Vintage Marilyn Monroe photo shows a time when feeding bears at National Parks was encouraged

Black bear behind tree
(Image credit: Getty)

Bears have always been star attractions at National Parks, but a vintage photo of Marilyn Monroe shows how our relationship with them has changed over the years. The picture, which is currently circulating on social media, shows the star with a pair of black bears at Banff National Park, Canada, which were being encouraged to feed on garbage for the entertainment of the public.

Banff wasn't the only park to make bear feeding time a spectacle, and it was also common in the US. According to Speaking of Bears by Rachel Mazur, the practice began in Sequoia National Park in the early 20th century, when rangers noticed the animals foraging for a meal in a trash pit. Rather than taking the garbage to a safer place, they moved it to a more central location so visitors could get a better look.

Other National Parks soon followed suit, including Yosemite (where garbage was placed on a platform for better visibility) and Yellowstone. It wasn't uncommon for visitors to be injured as the number of human-bear interactions increased.

The vintage photo, which you can see below, came to public attention this week after being posted on Instagram account TouronsOfYellowstone, which usually highlights examples of careless behavior at National Parks and other sites of natural beauty. 

We now know that food conditioning (when wild animals start to see people at an easy source of a meal) is a serious problem. First of all, it increases the chances of encounters between animals and people, which can result in injuries and may lead to the animal being euthanized for public safety.

Animals fed on human food or garbage are also less likely to seek out the food they would eat naturally, which can be bad for their digestive systems.

The US National Park Service warns visitors to never approach bears (the exact distance recommended varies depending on the park), and to keep all food, garbage, and toiletries well out of reach. See our guide what to do if you meet a bear for more advice.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.