Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Parks

Black Bears in and around the Great Smoky Mountains

Everyone wants to see a black bear while they are visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. Here are some interesting things about these beautiful creatures!

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is estimate there are about 1,500 black bears. That’s about two bears per square mile. Bears can live at any elevation in the park, so you could see them near cabins in the woods or as you hike.

Within the national park, it is illegal to approach black bears within 50 yards or 150 feet. You should use binoculars, cameras, or spotting scope to look at bears up close instead of trying to physically get near them. Keeping your distance prevents the bears from becoming disturbed, and keeps you and the bears safe. If you notice the bear change his/her bahavior, you are too close.

Black bears are omnivores! About 85 percent of their diet is berries, plants, and nuts. For protein, black bears will eat Insects and animal carrion.

Bears do not truly hibernate, but enter long periods of sleep. black bears located in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park tend to choose a “denning” site – like a hollowed out tree stump – in the winter where they enjoy long periods of sleep and low to minimal activity. They may leave the den for short periods if disturbed or during brief warming trends. Black bears can also change their hibernation patterns if they experience an unusually cold, or an unusually hot winter. Before their hibernation, bears can double their body weight! Male black bears can weigh about 250 pounds on average, while a female black bear weighs about 100 pounds. Record weight for black bears is up to 600 pounds! Bears eat extra to double their weight by the fall since they sleep for so many months so they don’t have to wake up and try to find food in the winter. Pregnant mothers often give birth to their cubs during the winter months. The bear cubs sleep next to their mother and nurse until mom is ready to leave her den. Baby bears never hibernate. By the time the bear cubs emerge from their dens for the first time, they are generally about three months of age, weigh about 4-8 pounds and are able to follow their mother around in search of food.

There are many black bears wondering around the Smokies in the winter months. Everyone wants to know where you are likely to see black bears in the Smoky Mountains. While seeing these creatures is never guaranteed, there are places where you are more likely to see them. Cades Cove is a popular place where many people see black bears. You can drive around on the loop and possibly see them passing through fields or even see them near the historic buildings or along the creek. If you love to hike, you might even see black bears along the trails. The best time to get a glimpse of the black bears is early in the morning or after dinner.

Not all black bears are black! In the Smoky Mountains, almost all of the bears are black, but in other regions, the bears can be brown or even cinnamon. You may notice some brown fur around the black fur, too.

Black bears in the park are wild and their behavior is sometimes unpredictable. Although extremely rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injuries and death. Treat bear encounters with extreme caution and follow these guidelines:

• If you see a bear, remain watchful. Do not approach it. If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior (stops feeding, changes its travel direction, watches you, etc.), YOU ARE TOO CLOSE. Being too close may promote aggressive behavior from the bear such as running toward you, making loud noises, or swatting the ground. The bear is demanding more space. Don’t run, but slowly back away, watching the bear. Try to increase the distance between you and the bear. The bear will probably do the same.
• If a bear persistently follows or approaches you without vocalizing or paw swatting, try changing 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. Act together as a group if you have companions. Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground). Throw non-food objects such as rocks at the bear. Use a deterrent such as a stout stick. Don’t run and don’t turn away from the bear. Don’t leave food for the bear; this encourages further problems.
• Most injuries from black bear attacks are minor and result from a bear attempting to get at people’s food. If the bear’s behavior indicates that it is after your food and you’re physically attacked, separate yourself from the food and slowly back away.
• If the bear shows no interest in your food and you’re physically attacked, fight back aggressively with any available object – the bear might consider you prey! Help protect others. Report all bear incidents to a park ranger immediately. Above all, keep your distance from bears!

Approaching any wild animal may disturb it. Wildlife harassment is punishable by fines of up to $5,000 and /or imprisonment of up to six months.

To report a bear incident, call (865) 436-1230.
Bear safety copied from National Park Service pamphlet


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