Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers issued a citation to visitors who fed a bear peanut butter in Cades Cove.
Rangers learned about the incident after witnesses provided video documentation, followed by an investigation that led to a confession.
“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.”
Prior to the incident, 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.
Rangers use these aversive conditioning techniques — including scaring bears from the roadside using loud sounds or discharging paint balls — to discourage bears from frequenting parking areas, campgrounds and picnic areas where they may be tempted to approach vehicles in search of food.
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. While camping or picnicking in the park, visitors must properly store food and secure garbage. Coolers should always be properly stored in the trunk of a vehicle when not in use.
If approached by a bear, slowly back away, creating space for it to pass. If the bear continues to approach, don’t run. Make yourself look large, stand your ground, and throw rocks or sticks at it.
If attacked by a black bear, rangers strongly recommend fighting back with any object available because the bear may view you as prey. Though rare, attacks on humans do occur, causing injuries or death.