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National park tells hikers to wrap up their vehicles due to sneaky pests

By Brian Lada, Accuweather.com
National park tells hikers to wrap up their vehicles due to sneaky pests
"Marmots climbing into the undercarriage and engine compartments of cars is extremely common in Mineral King," says one official. "They often cause damage and can be difficult to get out once they're in." File Photo by Pixabay/PublicDomainPictures

April 27 -- From the thundering eruption of Old Faithful to the sheer granite cliff of El Capitan, millions of people travel to national parks across the western United States every year to soak in scenery unlike anywhere else on Earth.

Yellowstone, Yosemite, Olympic and Rocky Mountain Nation Parks are among some of the most-visited national parks west of the Mississippi River, but while the landscape in each park is different from each other, they all have at least one thing in common.

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Scurrying around in the mountainous terrain lives a hidden danger -- one that requires hikers to go to great lengths to protect their belongings and to prevent a major headache after a long day on the trail.

People hiking through the wilderness need to be on alert for wildlife, especially animals that may be in search of a meal and catch a whiff of food inside of a backpack.

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However, some animals have another thing in mind when looking for something to chew on. In one outdoor destination in California, hikers need to wrap their vehicles like a Christmas gift to guard against a critter that is much smaller than a bear, bison or bobcat.

A hiker stands next to a vehicle wrapped in a massive tarp to protect it against marmots. Photo by ducarmes/Instagram
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This unusual sight is a common scene in Mineral King, a high-elevation hiking destination in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

A giant tarp serves as a form of protection against the largest member of the squirrel family, the marmot, Rebecca Paterson told AccuWeather. Paterson is a public affairs specialist at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, located in California's Sierra Nevada.

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"Marmots climbing into the undercarriage and engine compartments of cars is extremely common in Mineral King," Paterson said. "They often cause damage and can be difficult to get out once they're in."

Vehicles can be disabled by just one marmot chewing away at the tubes, wiring and other components that are left unprotected.

An extremely large tarp is needed for this technique that Paterson describes as "generally effective and easy," although it is not 100 effective. "This method is recommended anywhere with high marmot density," Paterson said.

Marmots reside only in the higher elevations, typically above 7,000 feet, so park visitors in the lower elevations do not need to worry about the creature wreaking havoc on their unattended vehicle.

Previously, wrapping a vehicle in chicken wire was a simpler method to guard against the animals, but the marmots have since learned how to get around the chicken wire and to the wires of a vehicle, the National Park Service says.

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Even after wrapping a vehicle in a tarp, the park service recommends doing a full inspection of your vehicle before starting the engine and leaving Mineral King in case a sneaky marmot made its way around the barricade.

People often feed marmots when trying to capture their photos or just give them a free meal, but mountain squirrels are no longer afraid of humans. They have become socialized by being fed so frequently, and because of that, park experts say marmots may get a little too close if they suspect that someone has food.

"It is important not to reward this behavior," Paterson said. "If a marmot is being bold or aggressive, clap your hands and scare them away."

This advice can be applied to any woodland creature and not just marmots.

In Utah's Zion National Park, squirrels and chipmunks have learned to beg for food at some of the park's most popular hiking spots, and in some cases, will climb into backpacks of unsuspecting hikers when seeking out a snack.

A chipmunk trying to snatch food out of a backpack (left) and a squirrel trying to sniff out food (right) in Zion National Park. Photo by AccuWeather
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The simple act of throwing a marmot, squirrel or any other animal a scrap of food may seem harmless, but it is dangerous and illegal.

"Feeding wildlife is actually a form of animal cruelty," the NPS said. "Most animals have very specific natural diets and therefore specific kinds of digestive bacteria. Being fed human food causes the wrong type of bacteria to become dominant in their stomachs."

People that are caught feeding the wildlife can end up paying a hefty fine.

One year in jail and a $5,000 fine could be the penalty for people that are caught feeding wildlife in Grand Teton National Park.

"Please be a true friend of wildlife, and keep your food and fingers to yourself," the NPS added.

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