Even the cutest, friendliest
panhandling bear is extremely dangerous if he for any reason
thinks of you as a food
source. The bears residing within GSMNP are wild bears.
They are not trained bears like the ones we see on television.
Recently a female hiker was killed and
partially eaten by a mother bear and her cub. The tragic
incident was the first reported fatal attack by black bears
in the history of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
As is any bear that seriously injures a person, the mother
bear and her cub were destroyed. Their destruction was necessary
as bears are creatures of habit and repeat behavior that
results in food for them.
"Officials stress that such incidents
are extremely rare. The park receives over 10 million visitors
annually and is home to approximately 1,800 black bears
with very few injuries. This was not only the first fatal
mauling in the Smokies, it was the first fatal attack by
a black bear in the history of the entire American National
park system," says Smokies Guide, the official newspaper
of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
obvious risks, most people feel fortunate if they see a
bear while in the park and most do so without placing themselves,
others, or the bears in jeopardy. Some visitors, however,
definitely get too close to this usually shy but powerful
animal. One wildlife photographer described outright bear
harassment by some of the park visitors--citing his experiences
of having seen a bear literally surrounded by a group which
encircled her treed cub while trying to pet it. This was
a most dangerous situation. No matter how tame and cute
the bears appear, one should never get between a mother
and her cubs. Put yourself in her place: if your child was
surrounded by wild bears, wouldn't you feel threatened and
concerned for the safety of your child? A bear's reaction
to this situation can be life-threatening--yours!
GSMNP officials provided the following
rules for safe visits to black bear country in The Great
Smoky Mountain National Park:
"When You See A Bear:
1. Do not feed or toss food to a bear
or any wild animal.
2. Keep children close to you.
3. Keep pets indoors or in a vehicle or camper.
4. Do not approach a bearthey are dangerous. If it
changes its natural behavior (feeding, foraging, or movement)
because of your presence, you are too close!
5. Never surround or corner a bear.
6. Never run from a bearback slowly away and make
lots of noise. However if the bear starts to approach you,
stand your ground. Yell and wave your arms above your head.
7. Encourage others to follow these instructions.
8. Be responsible. Improper behavior on your part may have
9. In the extreme cast that you are attacked by a black
bear, try to fight back using any object available. Playing
dead is usually not an appropriate response to a black bear
Great Smoky Mountain National Park officials
also routinely ask that park visitors to please remember
are wild and you are a guest in its habitat. The park service
advises people to stay in the vehicle if you see a bear
while driving through the park. If you see a bear while
you are on the trail, walk well around it and know that
most likely the bear will want to avoid you also. However,
if a bear is not afraid of you, it can mean he no longer
associates people with danger and may have begun instead
to associate people with handouts or food left behind by
campers. Again, such bears are unpredictable so be cautious.
Though it is illegal to feed the bears
in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and in spite of
fines and danger, some people ignore the law and feed the
bears anyway. Perhaps the bears cute appearance gives
those people the false sense that the bear is not dangerous.
This is a big mistake. Why? Does being chased by a three
hundred pound animal that can run thirty miles an hour sound
convincing? This classic nightmare is too often a reality
when kindness persuades tourists to feed a panhandling bear
but when they do not have enough food to satisfy its enormous
appetite. True not all bears respond with aggression to
a slow down in the food supply but enough of them do to
make the possibility of injury a serious concern. In 1997
alone three hundred fifty nine bear-related incidents were
recorded in GSMNP. Some of these were injuries and some
were for property damage. One camper in another park lost
a couple of fingers while feeding a bear by hand.
Even if you never feed park bears deliberately
keep in mind that the bears in the Smokies have a keen sense
of smell so they can find berries in the wild, but and are
attracted to food of any sort including human food. Overnight
campers are advised to hang their food or store food items,
in a bear safe container. Cables as well as bear-proof lockers
are provided for this purpose in most backcountry campgrounds.
However, if you check with the rangers at the visitor center
and they dont have cables at your campground destination,
ask them about buying or renting one of the parks
There is another alternative if you
go to an area with no lockers or cables. You can hang your
food from a rope strung like a clothesline between two trees.
(Note: It is helpful to also drape the rope across a couple
of limbs which are strong enough to support the packs but
not strong enough to support a bear.) The line must be at
least ten feet off the ground and taught enough to support
the things you hang from it. The food hung from the rope
needs to be at least four feet from a tree trunk or limb.
Backcountry campers are also advised
not to cook or store food in or near your tent as the food
odors may act as a bear magnet. When you leave the backcountry,
pack out your trash. Burying unused food will not keep it
away from bears that are equipped with long claws for digging.
The fire ring should not be left containing any food, food
wrappers, foil, cans, glass, etc even if an attempt has
been made to burn them. Do all possible to keep bears away
from people food as their success in stealing food eventually
will eventually result in the bears death. Banging pots
together and throwing rocks often discourages bears from
coming close to campers. Wild bears live as much as 23 percent
longer than panhandler bears. Some estimates place that
percentage at 50 percent.
Food issues aside, for safety purposes,
it is also helpful to know that bears are protective of
their cubs. Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains should
not follow a mother and its cub for any reason. This
behavior has been known to cause injury.
In spite of the obvious risks of mixing
bears with people, when you come to the Smokies, keep in
mind there are over ten million visitors to GSMNP every
year. For most, to see a bear is the highlight of their
trip to the Smokies. Only a small percentage come into contact
with bears in a negative way. If you follow the park rules
about bears found at the visitor center, you and your family
have little need to fear your Smoky Mountain vacation will
be anything but rewarding.
To report a problem bear inside
the park, call 1-865-436-1200 or contact a ranger or GSMNP
visitor center. Outside the park, call 1-800-332-0900 (Tennessee)
or 1-828-456-4123 (North Carolina) or the local police department.
More Black Bear Info:
Page Where To Find
Them Safety Habitat