GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Black bears are thriving in the Great Smoky Mountains, which means it's likely for anyone to encounter one of these creatures in the foothills and mountains of East Tennessee. For the safety of both bears and people, it's important for people in the area to stay BearWise.
Over the weekend, several people shared photos of some very close encounters they had with bears wandering around Gatlinburg and Walland.
Cindy Kitts said she was sitting in her car outside the Park Grill in Gatlinburg when she suddenly saw a curious bear hop up onto her open passenger side window.
She's no stranger to the area having been raised in the Smokies, so she stayed calm and quiet while the bear checked things out. Thankfully, she said she had no food in the car -- so the bear went on its way after she snapped a few photos.
Bears in the Smokies are well aware vehicles are prime foraging spots for yummy treats that people leave inside. These bears are clever enough to check if people locked their doors and even know how to open them if they suspect there's a snack inside. For that reason: You should always lock your vehicle's doors when visiting the Smokies and make sure not to leave any food unattended inside. If not, bears can get inside and do a lot of damage to the interior or to themselves.
Another large black bear was spotted wandering around Walland in Blount County Sunday afternoon. Sheena Lindsey kept her distance and snapped a few photos of it as it meandered around.
One of the misconceptions about black bears is that they are always docile. They can appear cute and sweet -- and most of the time they leave people alone -- but they are still dangerous wild animals.
Animal experts said some people are even so bold as to try to pet the bears, which is a terrible idea because bears are territorial and very protective of their young ones. If you see a bear, you should always keep your distance.
"I think as long as people just remember that these are wild animals and potentially dangerous animals, that they'll do a lot better around them, and bears have a tendency to do really well around human habitation," said Phil Colclough, director of animal care conservation and education zoo in Knoxville.
BearWise Vacation Tips
You are in bear country, so there’s a good chance you’ll see black bears here, even if you never go into the woods.
Don’t Feed the Bears
- Don’t leave food, trash or pet food outdoors when no one is around. A few seconds is all it takes for a hungry bear to swipe it.
- Feeding bears or using food to encourage bears to approach you is often illegal and always dangerous.
- Don’t throw scraps or leftovers out the car window or into the woods behind your vacation rental.
- If trash container or dumpster is full, don’t pile trash outside; take it with you when you leave.
Bear Viewing Guidelines
- Stay in your vehicle; even bears that seem comfortable around people are still wild animals.
- Never approach bears or entice them to approach you.
- Enjoy bears from a safe distance. Stay at least 50 yards or 10 car lengths away.
- Don’t block the road to view bears. If permitted, pull over and take photos from the safety of your vehicle.
If you want to see bears, early morning and early evening are good times for viewing and photography.
Driving in Bear Country
- Stay alert, stick to the speed limit and scan the roadsides. If a bear crosses the road, watch for cubs before you drive on.
- Be especially alert at dawn and dusk when bears are most active; black bears are fast and hard to see.
- If you hit a bear, don’t try to help it. Call 911 or report to authorities as soon as you can.
Wildlife collisions are not always covered by insurance.
Dogs and bears don’t mix.
Keep your dog on a leash at all times when outdoors. Letting your dog approach or lunge at a bear puts you and your pet in danger.
- Lock vehicles; don’t leave windows open even a crack. Remove anything with an odor (food, drinks, trash, pet food, scented products).
- Keep exterior doors closed, even when you’re there.
- Don’t stash food, beverages, trash or recycling on porches/patios/decks.
If You See a Black Bear
- If a bear comes around your place, try to scare it away by making lots of noise yelling or banging pots and pans together from a safe distance.
- If you see a bear near a dumpster or in a building, don’t approach or corner it. Give the bear an escape route.
IN THE WOODS
Black bears are seldom aggressive and attacks are rare.
- Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
- If you see a bear before it notices you: Stand still, don’t approach and enjoy the moment. Then move away quietly in the opposite direction.
- If you encounter a bear that is aware of you: don’t run; running may trigger a chase response. Back away slowly in the opposite direction and wait for the bear to leave.
Visit BearWise.org to learn what to do if a black bear approaches, charges or follows you.