The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Friday, 21 June 2024 18:24

Gatlinburg bear faces euthanization following viral social media moment

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Screen Shot 2024 06 21 at 9.36.41 PMIn this image from a social media video, a woman and child are seen outside the Bearskin Lodge in Gatlinburg. Biologists have concluded the bear is too habituated to humans and plans call for trapping and euthanizing the animal.  Hellbender Press

The incident caught outside a Gatlinburg hotel was not “normal bear behavior” and relocation of a fed, fearless bear isn’t an option

GATLINBURG — Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency biologists plan to trap and euthanize a bear featured in a viral video posted June 16 to the Facebook account of a woman who lists Chicago as her home.
The video, which is no longer viewable by the public, shows a woman holding a small child just outside the Bearskin Lodge. The woman and other guests had opted to stay outside despite being asked to come into the hotel lobby after a black bear appeared, according to TWRA.
The bear rears on its hind legs and sniffs the woman and the child’s foot, which she recoiled in fear. At one point the bear’s claws become hooked on the woman’s clothing. The bear ultimately retreats, snuffling and pawing around a nearby rocking chair before leaving with what appears to be garbage in its mouth.
“This is an example of how unfearful people have become of wildlife and how misunderstood black bears can be,” said TWRA spokesman Matthew Cameron via email. “They are not Teddy bears. They are large, powerful animals with sharp claws, sharp teeth and strong jaws.” 
He said the reciprocal fearless behavior on behalf of the bear is also unusual, and indicates it has become habituated to human food. As a result, it will likely lose its life.
“This is not normal bear behavior and is the result of irresponsible human behavior.  It is clearly evident this bear has been hand-fed before, which is illegal in Gatlinburg city limits. People are feeding and approaching bears just for a video to post on social media at the expense of bear’s lives and human safety.”
There was no indication in the video the woman had fed or attempted to feed the bear or be caught on video before the interaction, and others also remained outside during the encounter.
Still, bears are best enjoyed at a distance of at least 50 yards, and the situation was “extremely dangerous. Fortunately, no one was injured,” Cameron said.
Bears habituated to such a degree and free of fear cannot be relocated. They must be euthanized for safety reasons. An estimated 2,000 bears populate Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and they are spotted in the area on a near daily basis. Innumerable videos and photos on social media document the human-bear interface in Gatlinburg and beyond. One recent recording showed a black bear on the roof of the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.
Biologists and staff set a trap in the area near the Bearskin Lodge, and if a bear is caught and has matching physical characteristics, it will be put down. No DNA is available to test, Cameron said.
“When these situations occur, people blame the wildlife agency in charge of killing the bear. TWRA did not feed this bear, or leave unsecured garbage for it,” Cameron said. “The actions of irresponsible people killed this bear but TWRA (has) to perform the physical act.  It is upsetting, frustrating and heartbreaking for our biologists and officers to have to do this. We did not pursue a career in wildlife to kill animals.” 
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Last modified on Saturday, 22 June 2024 01:11