GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — It’s always a treat if you spot a bear while vacationing in the Great Smoky Mountains, but we often forget that they’re wild animals. After a recent spike in bear sightings, Gatlinburg Police are warning travelers to take extra caution.

It’s easy to forget they’re wild and unpredictable when they’re seen everywhere — in hot tubs, at gas stations and running in and out of Gatlinburg restaurants.

“I know that that’s what folks first think when they come to Gatlinburg or the Great Smoky Mountains is they want to have that interaction with a bear and we understand that, but we also have to think of the safety of the bear and the humans,” said Seth Butler, public information officer for the city.

These six basic steps to keep bears wild can be found on the city of Gatlinburg website:

  • Never feed or approach bears.
  • Secure food, garbage and recycling.
  • Remove bird feeders when bears are active.
  • Never leave pet food outside.
  • Clean and store grills.
  • Know what to do if you see a bear.

Black bears are seldom aggressive and attacks are rare, but if you see a bear before it notices you stand still, don’t approach, and enjoy the moment. Afterward, move away quietly in the opposite direction. If you encounter a bear that is aware of you don’t run. Running may trigger a chase response. Back away slowly. Make sure bears are not cornered and have an escape route during any encounters.

“The first thing is if you encounter a bear whether it be at your residence or if you’re a visitor in a cabin or if you’re in downtown Gatlinburg is to give our Police Department a phone call at 865-436-5181,” Butler said.