2009 has been a year full of bears in the Smokies. According the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a larger than normal abundance of acorns in the fall of 2008 attributed to the black bears’ gaining substantial weight allowing them to give birth to more cubs in January and February. In other words, there are A LOT OF BEARS in the Great Smoky Mountains.
A robust population of bears combined with the 9+ million visitors to the Smokies inevitably results in bear encounters. In addition, bears often obtain food from picnic areas and unsecured trash cans and become “hooked” on people food. They become dependent on this alternative food and become vulnerable to being hit by cars, shot by poachers or dying from ingesting food packaging. Bears that become accustomed to garbage and handouts also pose a risk to human safety. Please note that it is unlawful to feed or bait bears, and there is a monetary fine as well as possible jail time.
Park officials estimate the current bear population in the National Park to be approximately 1,500. That works out to approximately 2 bears per square mile in the Park. In 1934 when the Park was established, bears were a rare sighting due to over-hunting, trapping and changes in land use. It has taken decades for the bear population to rebound to its current number.
I, like most locals, feel privileged to share space with these beautiful creatures. And, with the prevalence of teddy bears and even Zeno, Gatlinburg’s Dancing Bear Mascot, it is easy to become accustomed to having bear encounters. However, black behavior is sometimes unpredictable. Although extremely rare, attacks on humans have occurred. Treat bear encounters with extreme caution and follow these guidelines provided by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
- If you see a bear remain watchful. Do not approach it. If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior —you’re too close. Being too close may promote aggressive behavior from the bear. Don’t run, but slowly back away, watching the bear.
- If a bear persistently follows or approaches you, change your direction. If the bear continues to follow you, stand your ground. If the bear gets closer, talk loudly or shout at it. Act aggressively and try to intimidate the bear. Make yourself look as large and throw non-food objects such as rocks at the bear. Don’t run and don’t turn away from the bear. Don’t EVER leave food for the bear.
- Most injuries from black bear attacks are minor and result from a bear attempting to get food. If the bear’s behavior indicates that it is after your food, separate yourself from the food by slowly backing away.
- If the bear shows no interest in your food and you’re physically attacked, fight back aggressively with any available object–the bear may consider you as prey! Help protect others, by reporting all incidents to a park ranger. Keep your distance from bears!
If you are interested in seeing bears during your visit to the Smokies, a drive through Cades Cove often produces a sighting. Remember that bears are more active in the Spring and Fall and in the early mornings and late afternoon to early evening. If you want to increase your chances of seeing a bear, try renting a cabin like the ones at Winfield Heights (see pic at right of Bear on the road to Winfield Heights), on Ski Mountain, or a cabin located near the National Park.
As a last note, we want you to enjoy these bear pics, and remember…GARBAGE KILLS BEARS and trashes the Smokies! Follow these guidelines from Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a safer encounter of the bear kind:
- Eating garbage changes the bear’s wild behavior and causes them to lose their instinctive fear of humans. This lack of fear causes “nuisance” bears to be more unpredictable when they encounter humans.
- At their best, panhandler bears perform tricks to obtain food. At worst, they damage property and injure people. In 1999, 116 bear-related incidents were recorded.
- Eating garbage transforms wild and healthy bears into habitual beggars. Studies have shown that panhandler bears never live as long as wild bears. Many are hit by cars and become easy targets for poachers. Beggar bears may die from ingesting food packaging. Many bears have died a slow and agonizing death from eating plastics and other materials.
Special thanks to the Smokies Guide, the official newspaper of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as www.nps.gov/grsm for providing the bear update information.
This blog is sponsored by ERA In The Smokies Realty and Rentals located at 207 Parkway in Gatlinburg. For more info. on a Gatlinburg Cabin for your Smoky Mountain Vacation or all the reasons to move to the Smokies, call 1-800-309-0277. ERA In The Smokies is a leader in chalet and Log Cabin Rentals and Real Estate Sales in the Gatlinburg area.