(WBIR-Knoxville) Knoxville Zoo rangers spotted a surprise visitor scaling the zoo's perimeter fence in the middle of the night Tuesday.
According to a Knoxville Zoo statement, the rangers first saw the black bear in Chilhowee Park before it climbed the zoo's fence at about midnight.
After zoo staff found out about the bear, they made sure all four black bears living at the zoo were still in their cages. Once they realized the black bear wasn't one of their own, the staff immediately began a sweep of the zoo's property searching for the surprise guest.
Lisa New, executive director said their top priority is the safety of their visitors and animals.
"Of course our first concern is to ensured the safety of our visitors and animals," said New. "We are also concerned about the welfare of our wandering bear, who hopefully has made his way to a more rural area. Of course, our Black Bear Falls is one of the top habitats in the country, so maybe word has gotten out in the black bear community," she joked.
The staff conducted multiple searches of the zoo's 53 acres, and said they haven't found the bear. Since staff found no indications of the wandering guest, they opened the zoo as scheduled.
Amy Flew, curator of mammals, said wandering black bears are not uncommon for this time of year.
"This is when the younger bears are starting to seek out their own territory," explained Flew. "Unfortunately, with the close proximity of our homes to their habitats, sometimes we may cross paths.