Appalachian Bear Rescue: How to behave around bears in the Smokies


If you’ve been on social media lately, there’s a good chance you’ve seen posts about close encounters with bears in the Smokies. This is, after all, the heavy tourist season in the park.

“You have a lot of people here in bear habitat, so of course bears and humans come into contact,” said Appalachian Bear Rescue curator Janet Dalton.

That’s why ABR is stressing the importance of knowing how to behave around the animals the group knows well. The non-profit operates a black bear rescue facility.

“There is this sort of false sense that folks have sometimes that our bears in the Smokies are tame or domesticated, and they’re not. They are wild animals and wild animals behave unpredictably sometimes,” said Dalton.

Dalton’s two biggest rules to follow? Never approach a bear or any wildlife and don’t feed them.

“A lot of folks go hiking or they’re camping so it’s really important you don’t leave food in your car because bears have a great sense of smell,” Dalton said.

And if you do happen to find yourself in a close encounter, she said, “If anything you do causes that bear to change their behavior, they stop foraging and they start focusing on you, they’re watching you intently, then at that point it’s time for you to back off and move on. They’re letting you know that you’re in their space.”

All things to keep top of mind to make sure you and the bears walk away, unharmed.

Something else to keep in mind: it’s actually illegal to willfully approach wildlife in the park. You’re required to stay 50 yards away.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park also releasing a statement about bears and human interaction.

“To help us best protect bears in the park, it is critical that people act responsibly during their visit. Bears should never be fed or approached. We work hard to keep bears wild in a space shared with 11.4 million people. We need each visitor to do their part by always staying at least 50 yards back from bears and properly disposing of food waste – for their safety and that of the bears. Bears are wild animals and their behavior is unpredictable. Mother bears are extremely protective of their young and they will aggressively defend their cubs from harm. By approaching a mother bear with cubs, visitors are putting themselves and others at risk of injury.”

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

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