GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – People who fed peanut butter to a black bear in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park have confessed and have received a citation.
Feeding, touching, disturbing, or willfully approaching wildlife within 150 feet, or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife, is illegal in the park and is a Class B federal misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $5,000.
Rangers learned about the incident after witnesses provided video evidence. Following an investigation, the three visitors who were in the vehicle at the time confessed and a 27-year-old woman was issued the citation on Thursday, June 5.
“Managing wild bears in a park that receives more than 12 million visitors is an extreme challenge and we must have the public’s help,” said Park Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver. “It is critical that bears never be fed or approached – for their protection and for human safety.”
Rangers say the 100-pound male bear had been feeding on walnuts for several weeks along the Cades Cove Loop Road. The bear started to exhibit food-conditioned behavior leading wildlife biologists to suspect the bear had been fed.
Biologists captured the bear, tranquilized it, and marked it with an ear tag before releasing it on-site in the same general area.
Although videos such as the bear in the hot tub might go viral, park officials remind visitors that they should be cautious while observing bears to keep themselves and bears safe. Until the summer berries ripen, natural foods are scarce. Visitors should observe bears from a distance of at least 50 yards and allow them to forage undisturbed. Bears should never be fed.
If approached by a bear, park officials recommend slowly backing away to put distance between yourself and the animal, creating space for it to pass. If the bear continues to approach, you should not run. Hikers should make themselves look large, stand their ground as a group, and throw rocks or sticks at the bear. If attacked by a black bear, rangers strongly recommend fighting back with any object available, and remember that the bear may view you as prey. Though rare, attacks on humans do occur, causing injuries or death.
For more information on what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, please visit the park website. To report a bear incident in the park, call 865-436-1230.