The chance of seeing wildlife in the wild is one of the exciting things about
visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Some of the larger animals that may be encountered while hiking in the park
black bears and even elk.
It's important to be alert at all times while hiking on park trails
to avoid surprising wildlife.
Animals are naturally wary of humans and generally choose to avoid us.
If approached too closely or disturbed, they may become aggressive.
Ursus americanus, the american black bear,
is a favorite among park visitors and a symbol of the wild and natural Great
Though they can be entertaining to watch,
and may appear docile,
bears are large, wild animals and their behavior is sometimes
Never feed or approach bears.
We do have a regulation in place that hopefully
helps people understand what a safe distance may be between people and bears.
I'm standing at a distance of about fifty yards, and normally that's a
safe distance between people and bears.
We tell people not to willfully approach
fifty yards or closer
or any distance that displaces or disturbs a bear.
Sometimes it's different in judging distance inside a wooded area versus out in an
open field, so a person needs to have a good grasp of what about fifty yards is
whenever they walk into bear habitat.
We have about 1,600 bears in the park.
We also have a lot of people and, as you can imagine, we have a lot of garbage as well.
So really, the fundamental way that we manage bears for the most part is to keep
our food and or our garbage away from black bears.
By doing so, it helps to maintain that wild behavior that they have and
they do relatively well. Mother bears teach their cubs to be afraid of people and
also the smell of people, and when they do that, they know that's the best for
them and also for their cubs for the future too.
Unfortunately, these animals loose their fear of people
by getting our food and garbage, too-- to be rewarded for tolerating our presence.
Many people don't understand that nighttime garbage in a developed area along
a trail really gets this whole process started where we have an animal change
from an animal with a good wild behavior to an animal that
can cause problems or can cause some risk for our visitors.
You know, one of the most common questions that we get from visitors,
and even a concern by some visitors, is
what do I do if I see a bear. Attacks on humans are extremely rare but doing some
basic proper responses, you can greatly minimize the chance of an attack on a
If you're hiking on a trail and you have the opportunity to see a black bear, and you're
a good distance away,
then it's OK to stand there and watch the bear and enjoy the bear too. Don't approach the bear any closer.
Two important behaviors that people need to basically understand in black bears
is offensive versus defensive behavior.
In the case of defensive behavior,
in a situation where the bear swats the ground,
he vocalizes, such as blowing, popping his jaws, slapping vegetation, lunges at you,
as what we call a "bluff charge".
really what the animal is saying is that you're too close. You're in that animal's space
and he wants you to back up and that's what you should do. You should talk to the
bear in a low tone of voice. Slowly backup and try to increase that space
to hopefully protect you and also the bear. And hopefully the bear will do the same.
In the other case, though, where a bear approaches someone, he does not vocalize, he does
not bluff charge, he does not swat vegetation, as in defensive behavior,
and normally the bear will come very quickly and steadily
Some have described as the head of the animal is very low to the ground,
the ears tend to lay back.
In that regard, we term that as an offensive behavior.
So that bear is coming to us for some reason; it's probably after our food,
but in some extremely rare cases it may be evaluating us as potential prey species.
We advise people to try to give the bear the right of way if it wants to travel a certain direction,
try to let the animal do so.
Change your direction, see if that makes a difference.
If that doesn't work and the bear continues to approach you,
we advise people if you are in a group to get close together, wave your arms, yell.
Try to get on higher ground or on a rock.
Try to make yourself bigger.
Pick up a rock or stick and throw it toward the animal.
And try to make yourself more dominant
and more authoritative than the animal. Try to reestablish your dominance over that bear.
If you do all those things and it still doesn't work, and the bear continues to approach you,
If you think the bear's after your food and it makes contact with you,
you need to separate yourself from your food.
Don't protect your food at all cost, that's for sure.
However if the bear does not show interest to your food, and the bear continues to come towards you and
basically jumps on you, we tell people to fight back aggressively.
Do not, absolutely, do not play dead in a case where you are attacked by a black bear.
Help protect others.
Report all bear incidents to a park ranger immediately.
Bear pepper spray may be carried by hikers within the park for protection
against bodily harm from aggressive wildlife.
It must be commercially manufactured and labeled as bear pepper spray
and be registered with the environmental protection agency and
Bearspray must contain between one to two percent of the active ingredients
capsaicin and related capsaicinoids.
Attacks on humans are rare and
can be avoided by giving animals plenty of space
and by following park rules for food and garbage storage and disposal.
Remember to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and be
watchful for all forms of wildlife while out hiking.
The opportunity to safely observe wildlife in its natural habitat is one
of the privileges we gain by preserving this great and vital landscape.