Black bears are becoming more abundant in East Tennessee. This year with the drought, they also have a more visible presence as the desire for food and water bring them closer and closer to the biggest threat they have, mankind.
Based on current data, there are over 1800 black bears living in the Great Smoky Mountains national park. That is equal to 2 bears per square mile. They can be found in most all areas and elevations of the park. Black bear attacks on people are rare, and most of those come from people interfering with the bear.
When out this fall enjoying the colors in the mountains, whether hiking, camping, or just on a short drive, there is some important information to remember.
• If you see a bear, do not attempt to approach it, pet it, or antagonize it in any way, shape or form.
• When camping, keep all food away from the tent, and suspended from the ground.
• Immediately dispose of any and all food scraps, containers, wrappers, napkins, or anything that may have the smell of food on it.
• When hiking, do not leave backpacks, food, small animals or children unattended. Bears sense of smell is many times greater then ours.
• Never, ever toss or feed the bears, or any wildlife, at any time. A human food dependant bear becomes a nuisance bear.
Food management is one of the easiest ways to prevent hostile bear encounters. Keep your food away from your sleeping area, and out of reach. Very, very rarely do black bears just attack people; although, there has been stories of them actively stalking and killing people. This is in the minority though.
What should you do if you encounter a bear? Keep the bear in your field of view and back away slowly. If the bear has interest in you, and you have food, lay it down and walk away slowly, never turning your back on the bear. If the bear begins making noise, slapping the ground, acting aggressive, it is a sign it is feeling threatened and cornered. Never approach a cub, its momma will be near by. The saying, "mad as a momma bear" comes from this very instance. Cubs are cute and all, but one cry from the cub brings momma running, and at this point your very life is in danger.
If a black bear notices you, and comes towards you, begin making noises, make yourself as tall as you can, look for a branch or rock to defend yourself with. Most experts now agree playing dead is a bad thing to do.
Black bears are wonderful animals, but like all wild animals they need to be respected. Respecting them, their space, and nature will ensure many generations are able to experience the thrill of a mountain drive, and seeing that elusive bear.