Tourists plead guilty to feeding black bear in Gatlinburg after viral photos

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GATLINBURG (WATE) – Two out-of-state tourists have pleaded guilty to intentionally feeding a black bear in Gatlinburg last summer after photos of the incident went viral on social media.

Billy Harden, 40, and Dawn Cantrell, 27, both from Indiana, were vacationing on Silverbell Lane on July 8 when they and their two children decided to hand feed a yearling black bear, says the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. They posted photos of themselves feeding the bear on social media. After WATE 6 On Your Side and other media outlets ran stories on the photos, they came to the attention of the TWRA who cited both Hardin and Cantrell.Previous story: Gatlinburg cabin renters cause social media outrage over bear feeding photos

Both appeared in court on October 27 and pleaded guilty. They were fined $250 each with additional court costs of $270 each.

“Feeding bears eventually results in them becoming completely habituated to approaching people and ultimately becoming dependent on humans as a food source.   Once this happens, they lose interest in natural foraging and have to be removed from that environment and in some extreme cases, euthanized,” said Wildlife Officer Scott Reasor.

TWRA has documented 603 black bear incidents as of September. Most were just sightings, but others ranged from garbage issues and property damage to bears hit by vehicles and orphaned cubs. There have only been four incidents involving aggressive bears.

Feeding bears can be dangerous according to TWRA. A 74-year-old woman in Colorado was found in 2009 mauled to death and partially eaten by a black bear in her backyard. She had been previously warned against feeding bears. An 85-year-old Montana woman was attacked inside her home in 2015 by a bear she had been feeding. She died a few days later.

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