Update: GSMNP euthanizes bear that bit visitor

5:11 PM, May 20, 2010   |    comments
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Video: Web Extra: How to intimidate approaching black bears

  • Mark Shelton of Sevierville was hiking on Laurel Falls when a ranger darted the bear. He took these photos and submitted them to 10News.
  • Mark Shelton of Sevierville was hiking on Laurel Falls when a ranger darted the bear. He took these photos and submitted them to 10News.
  • Mark Shelton of Sevierville was hiking on Laurel Falls when a ranger darted the bear. He took these photos and submitted them to 10News.
  • Mark Shelton of Sevierville was hiking on Laurel Falls when a ranger darted the bear. He took these photos and submitted them to 10News.
  • Mark Shelton of Sevierville was hiking on Laurel Falls when a ranger darted the bear. He took these photos and submitted them to 10News.
    

Officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have euthanized the bear that bit a visitor last week.

Here is the statement released by park spokesperson, Nancy Gray, Thursday afternoon:

In accordance with widely accepted wildlife and visitor use management policies and practices, the bear that bit a park visitor on the Laurel Falls Trail on Wednesday, May 12, was euthanized in a humane manner (following the American Veterinarian Medical Association Guidelines on Euthanasia.) The bear will be necropsied for research analysis purposes.

Park wildlife personnel monitored the Laurel Falls Trail since the incident occurred 8 days ago. They did not identify another bear with the type of behavior that was exhibited by the bear involved in the incident. Comparison of the bear with the photographs, taken by a visitor on the day in question, confirmed we were dealing with the same animal. Contrary to what continues to be stated on websites and blogs, transferring an animal that has attacked and injured a person, to another location, is simply not an option.

We sincerely hope that the intense focus directed at this particular animal will now be directed at gaining the public's cooperation in adhering to the rules and regulations designed to protect both wildlife and visitors while visiting not only the Great Smoky Mountains but all public lands.

 

Previous Report from May 18, 2010:

Rangers make sure they've captured the right bear

Park rangers at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are examining photographs to make sure a bear they captured last week is the same animal that bit a visitor on the foot.

Rangers told 10News that the captured animal is almost undoubtedly the same bear based on photos and eyewitness accounts.

"We have rangers monitoring Laurel Falls to make absolutely sure there are no other bears active in that area that could have been responsible for last week's incident," said GSMNP spokeswoman Nancy Gray.  "I know people are upset that the bear will be euthanized, but we really have no other option.  You cannot reverse the behavior and no other agencies will take a bear that bit someone."

The man was bitten while taking pictures of the bear at Laurel Falls and allowed the animal to get too close.  He was not seriously injured, but park policy requires rangers to euthanize any bear that bites a visitor.


Blame for Bear's Behavior

Rangers at the GSMNP said contrary to original news reports, the man who was bitten on the foot at Laurel Falls did not approach the bear.

"The bear had approached many individuals. He [the person who was bitten] was not the only one," said Gray.  "Two weeks prior to the incident, we had a second-hand report from visitors that people were feeding this bear.  We posted bear warning signs."

Gray said the blame for last week's incident lies with all visitors who knowingly feed bears as well as those who indirectly feed the animals by leaving trash or food scraps.

"The saying goes that 'a fed bear is a dead bear.'  Once the bears get to the point that they are not frightened of humans and aggressively pursue human food, the end result is almost always that the animal has to be put down.  Unfortunately, that is what will end up happening in this case.  If people want to keep bears safe, they need to keep food away from bears."

A ranger monitoring Laurel Falls on Monday told 10News that the park was considering setting up a display at the site to tell the story of this incident in order to emphasize the importance of not feeding wild animals.


Facebook Frustration

The park's policy of euthanizing bears that bite people has sparked an outcry on websites like Facebook.

As of Tuesday night, more than 2,600 people have joined the Facebook group named Save the black bear in the Smokies from dumb tourists.  

The users have named the captured bear "Laurel" and blame the visitor who was bitten for annoying the bear while taking photographs.


Bear Maximum

Gray said the park has seen increased bear activity compared to recent years due to a shortage of mast last fall.

"There have been several encounters with yearling bears that were obviously underweight.  We believe it is because they did not find enough food before hibernation.  The bears are active and they are hungry, so it is vitally important that people not feed them."

Compounding the problem of a scarce food supply last fall, TWRA also reported a spike in the bear population.

"We normally have around 1,600 bears in the park," said Gray.  "Right now I would definitely say we are on the high side of the bear population."


Balancing Bears and Visitors

With millions of people visiting the park each year, one of the main attractions is the opportunity to see wildlife such as bears.

"People want to see wildlife and have that experience," said Gray.  "We also want them to have that experience, but it is up to the visitors to educate themselves on how to appropriately interact with wildlife such as bears."

The park has emphasized visitor education and drastically reduced the number of dangerous encounters with bears in the last decade.  Bear-proof trash dumpsters and other devices have also minimized the animals' opportunities to obtain food from human sources.

Rangers with the GSMNP have also put up signs reminding visitors to 'leave no trace' as well as erecting warning signs where bears are active.

Intimidating Bears

Gray said if a bear approaches you, the appropriate response is to keep your distance by backing away slowly.  If the bear comes too close, Gray said visitors should attempt to "intimidate" the bear.

"Black bears are more easily intimidated than Grizzlies or other types of bears," said Gray.  "You can scream at the bear and wave your arms.  If the bear is not frightened, throw rocks or sticks in its direction."

Gray said campers should beat pots and pans to make loud noises in order to scare a bear away.

See the video section of this story's page to watch Gray's explanation of how to scare bears away.

 

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