Cades Cove
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

the Bears
back to theCove

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What To Do
if you meet
a Black Bear

The Smokies rugged, temperate environment provides excellent bear habitat. Only black bears live in the Park. Current estimates place park bear populations range at 500-700.

Bear life spans average 12 years. A typical male weighs 300 pounds, while females average 230 pounds. Bears, like humans, are omnivores. Their food intake is 85% plant material. They obtain most of their protein from insects, but occasionally eat fish, fawns, or other small animals.

Most bears enter a deep sleep starting in late fall. Cubs are born in January. Bear sightings usually begin in early March, but weather conditions can delay this. Newborns and mothers remain denned until May. Cubs remain with their mothers for a year and a half.

It is illegal to feed or harass any Park wildlife. Fines range up to $5,000 and 6 months in prison. Besides being illegal, human foods (and packaging) can kill a bear. They die from asphyxiation or digestive track blockages. A human-fed bear has a lifespan of only 8 years. Tamed bears lose their natural fear of people. Violent bears must be destroyed. Please, for their sake and yours, do not feed the bears.

Park bear management includes population monitoring efforts, and, when necessary, relocation. The Park moves aggressive bears deep into the backcountry. Hopefully, they revert to natural behaviors. If this does not happen, the Park moves the bear to less populated areas. Most of these relocation sites are open to hunting. Tame bears make easy targets.

Although there is no one best place to see bears in the Park, Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are among the best spots to look. Bears are most active early in the morning and late in the evening.

On the small chance of encountering an aggressive black bear the best action is make a lot of noise (a whistle works well), and slowly retreat. Only when between a mother and her cubs, or when dealing with a hungry, human-fed bear are they dangerous. Bears are excellent climbers, so climbing a tree is ineffective. Playing dead does not work either, since dead animals are part of the black bears' diet. However, few dangerous bear situations occur.

  Call Steve Speer at: 865-233-0508