Black bears wear GPS devices to track human contact and food sources

Published: Jun. 29, 2017 at 1:52 PM EDT
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You may have seen black bears in the Smoky Mountains with GPS monitoring devices around their neck. It's part of a new multi-year study to see where bears are getting human food.

Local 8 News Anchor Lauren Davis talked to park rangers about why they're tracking the bears.

Jennie Berger was driving on Bear Cub Way in Sevier County when she happened to see a mother bear and two cubs. Around her neck was a GPS monitoring device.

Park rangers told Local 8 News the GPS program is a three year study to see where the bears are at all times. Great Smoky Mountain National Park Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver said, "I can come into my office, pull up data and see where they are. It's like a video game."

Stiver is using the GPS monitors to find out where the bears are getting human food outside the park. He said human food is bad because it will create more bear-human conflicts, which could be bad for the bear.

"In the end it's about protecting bears and people," Stiver said.

There are 30 bears with the GPS monitors, both females and males, who have already made human contact. UT Masters student Jessica Giacomini said, "We target conflict bears getting into campgrounds and getting into dumpsters around the park."

What they've seen already has really surprised them.

"I've been surprised how far those bears can travel, and we've had males that have covered insane amounts leaving the park and looking for females," Giacomini said.

Park rangers remind visitors to keep food locked up so the bears, like the one Jennie filmed, aren't attracted to that area, which ultimately can lead to the bears' deaths.

The GPS necklaces will remain on the bears until next summer when the study is over. After it's finished, they will take the data and make sure the problem areas are locking up their food.

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