Park officials: 'Busy' reminding visitors to be careful of wildlife
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials said they have been busy over the last few weeks "reminding visitors about ethical wildlife viewing."
Park officials responded to WVLT News after a viral video shows people gathered dangerously close to a black bear in the Smokies.
Kelly Price Helms captured the video in an area between Townsend and Cades Cove.
It shows a group of people inching closer to the animal in a grassy area near the road.
"I just want people to be informed about the danger of being that close to wildlife. It could not only turn bad for the tourist but for the bear as well," said Helms.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency said feeding bears or getting too close can make them more comfortable around humans and more likely to approach.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park warns visitors that bears are wild animals and can be dangerous or unpredictable.
It's illegal to come within 50 yards of bears in the park, and violations can result in fines and arrests.
"It’s clear that bear has become too comfortable around humans and is likely habituated to human food. Amazingly, the desire to have a close encounter with a black bear is often stronger than common sense," Matthew Cameron with the Tennessee Wildlife Association said.
The park said they issued 22 citations and "made countless verbal warnings to people encountered in the field who were too close to bears and elk" in 2018, and officials believe they have had similar numbers in 2019.
"We can’t be everywhere at once. We are grateful for visitors who not only following park regulations, but also take the time to inform and educate other visitors who are not aware of the 50-yard rule," a park spokesperson said.
Black bears are naturally wary of people, and should never be approached. If hiking or backpacking, follow the tips below to ensure your safety around bears.
· Never feed or approach a bear. Park regulations require at least 50 yards to safely view a bear.
· Never store food or scented items (such as tooth paste) in your tent.
· Remain calm if you encounter a bear.
· Make the bear aware of your presence by speaking in an assertive voice, singing, clapping your hands, or making other noises.
· Make sure the bear has an escape route.
· Avoid direct eye contact and never run from a bear. Instead, slowly back away.
· To scare the bear away, make loud noises by yelling, banging pots and pans or using an air horn. Make yourself look as big as possible by waving your arms. If you are with someone else, stand close together with your arms raised above your head.
· The bear may utter a series of huffs, make popping jaw sounds by snapping its jaws and swat the ground. These are warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away, avoid direct eye contact and do not run.
· If a black bear stands on its hind legs or moves closer, it may be curious and trying to get a better view or detect scents in the air. It is usually not a threatening behavior.
· Black bears will sometimes "bluff charge" when cornered, threatened or attempting to defend a food source. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, then slowly back away and do not run.
· If the bear does not leave, move to a secure area or at least 200 yards away.
Approaching a bear in the National Park is a crime, punishable by up to six months in jail. The
urges people who witness a crime to call 911 and report it.