KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – While humans are increasing outdoor activity as the COVID-19 health crisis restrictions are loosened, the TWRA says wildlife, including black bears, never stopped their usual activities.

Bears are coming out of their winter hibernation, mating and making their way through East Tennessee in search of food and are increasingly running into humans. This is not ideal, since wild bears are habit-forming creatures and should not interact with humans, especially regarding food.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says there’s been an increase in sightings and nuisance calls, along with human-bear interactions; not just in the Smokies, but also in cities.

This week, a large black bear was spotted in North Knoxville on Rennoc Road near Broadway. Knoxville Police officers patrolled the area with several witnesses in the area seeing the animal too. Also, two bear cubs were found without their mother in a Sevier County neighborhood and were sent to Appalachian Bear Rescue to be cared for.

Earlier this month, in an act of what TWRA called nontypical behavior, a group of bears frightened some cabin visitors in Gatlinburg with one breaking into the home and taking candy.

READ MORE >> A wild experience: Bear breaks into Gatlinburg cabin with guests inside

TWRA wildlife officer David Sexton said in Friday’s TN WildCast podcast that springtime bear activity is narrowed down to one thing: The bears are looking for food.

“Right now, the bears are going into residential areas where there is trash present,” Sexton said. “So you would think with not as many people, that our calls would diminish, but it hasn’t this year.”

The TWRA has some guidelines to minimize encounters with bears:

  • Never approach them
  • Never feed them
  • If one is close, make your presence known by yelling – it may get scared and run away
  • Never run from a black bear, as it could trigger its instinct to give chase
  • If a bear chases you, stand your ground, raise your arms to appear larger and yell; you can also throw rocks or sticks until it leaves
  • There are also steps you should take to bear-proof your home

MORE | TWRA’s information page on Black bears; report a sighting