KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Fall is the time of year black bears across East Tennessee and in the Smokies are the hungriest. This is as they get ready to sleep through the winter. It’s also why there’s a competition this week through the Appalachian Bear Rescue called the Chubby Cubby Chonk Down.
It’s a contest to see which cub will be voted the chubbiest. While the social media campaign is all for good fun, it’s also to get the cubs ready for the wild.
Victoria Reibel is an Assistant Curator with the Appalachian Bear Rescue. Reibel explained the science behind bears ‘ eating habits this time of year. “The genes and the hormones in their body that would tell them that they’re full are turned off this time of year, so they can just keep eating and eating,” Reibel said.
She said bears in the mountains are eating more than 20,000 calories a day at this time. Reibel also described bears as “opportunistic.” She said if they run into a hiker on a trail, it could be seen as a way to get some easy calories, but that’s not exactly what it sounds like.
“If you run into a bear on a trail, say you’re with your dog because we’re using that example, most likely they’re not viewing you or your dog as an actual food item,” Reibel began. She added that since the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is visited so heavily, the bears have learned humans often have food on them. “A lot of those bears have learned that people mean food, not necessarily that people are food, but people carry food and people have food.”
Reibel said her number one tip for people if they run into a bear is to make a lot of noise. “You want to appear bigger than that bear and you want them to know you’re sort of the boss.” She also said it’s helpful when people travel or hike in groups because the conversation will scare bears off. She also said bear bells or spray are another good option.
She also shared a tip when a bear does chase you. “If a bear is actually attacking you, a black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains, the advice from most all wildlife managers will be to fight back,” Reibel said.
So, as the eight little cubs compete for the crown in the Appalachian Bear Rescue, their overall competition is much bigger than that. A life out in the Smokies.
Those interested can vote for their favorite, chubbiest cub via the Appalachian Bear Rescues Facebook and Instagram stories. The bracket will progress over the next two days, with the winner announced Wednesday.
The cubs will be released into the wild in the next month or so. At that point, they will weigh them to see who the true winner is. The Appalachian Bear Rescue was formed in 1996. Since then they have rescued 341 cubs that were either orphaned or abandoned.