Smoky Mountain Mall

Black Bears of the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains some of the largest tracts of wilderness in the East and is a critical sanctuary for a wide variety of animals. Protected inside the park boundaries are some 66 species of mammals, over 200 varieties of birds, 50 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians.

The symbol of the Smokies, the American Black Bear, is perhaps the most famous resident of the park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides the largest protected bear habitat in the East. Though populations are variable, biologists estimate approximately 1,800 bears live in the park, a density of over two bears per square mile.


Black bears of the Smoky MountainsAll black bears in the park are black in color, but in other parts of the country they may be brown or cinnamon. Black bears may be six feet in length and up to three feet high at the shoulder. Females are generally smaller and weigh less than males. Bears weigh eight ounces at birth and can weigh 400 pounds or more as an adult.

Population: 400 to 600 in the park.

Range: All elevations of the park. The population density in the park is approximately one bear per square mile. At one time, the black bear's range included most of North America except the extreme west coast. Because of the loss of habitat, the black bear is now confined to wooded areas or dense brushland.

Life Span: Generally 8 - 12 years, though "nuisance" bears have a life expectancy of about half that time. Some park bears have lived to be over 20.

Diet: Berries, nuts, animal carrion, and insect larvae.

Did you know: Black bears have color vision, keen senses of smell, are good tree climbers, can swim very well and run up to 30 miles per hour.


During spring and summer, most activity takes place during early morning and late evening hours. Mating usually takes place in June. Both female and male bears may have more than one mate during the summer.

Bears choose a denning site with the coming of cold weather. Dens are usually hollow stumps, tree cavities, or wherever there is shelter. Bears in the Smokies are unusual in that they often den high up off the ground inside of standing hollow trees. They do not truly hibernate, but enter long periods of sleep. Bears may leave the den for short periods if disturbed or during brief warming trends.

One to five cubs are born during the mother's winter sleep. Females with newly born cubs usually emerge from their winter dens in late March or early April. Commonly born in pairs, the cubs will remain with the mother for about eighteen months or until she mates again. Mother bears are fiercely protective of their young. Sounds of aggression include growls, snorts, blows, and snapping of jaws.


The bear's keen sense of smell leads it to nuts and berries, but the animal is also enticed by human food left on a picnic table or offered from an outstretched hand. Feeding bears or allowing them access to human food causes a number of problems:

* Nuisance bears damage property and injure people. In 1993, 110 bear related incidents were recorded and extensive property damage occurred.

* It transforms wild and healthy bears into habitual beggars. Studies have shown that nuisance bears never live as long as wild bears. Many are hit by cars and become easy targets for poachers. Beggar bears may die from ingesting food packaging and aggressive nuisance bears must be destroyed by park managers.

For these reasons, National Park Rangers issue citations for improper food storage and feeding bears. These offenses can result in fines of up to $5,000 and jail sentences lasting up to six months. Visitors are urged to view all wildlife at a safe distance and never to leave food or garbage unattended.

*Be sure to "bear-proof" your food, toothpaste and cosmetics. If your car camping, store food in a food locker, preferably in the trunk of your car, or keep food covered and out of sight.

*If your backpacking, suspend food and food garbage on the cable systems provided at backcountry campsites.

*Keep your tent, sleeping bag, clothing and other gear clean and free of food odor.

*If a bear approaches, keep a safe distance and use good judgement. Never attempt to try to recover or retrieve food or belongings once a bear has possession!


In many cases, habitual nuisance bears must be trapped and relocated or destroyed. If the bears are moved soon after their roadside begging behavior starts, they have a better chance of returning to natural food foraging behavior. Until 1991, the park's management policy centered on life trapping problem bears and relocating them away from developed areas. Frequently, they returned and had to be trapped repeatedly or removed from the park entirely. Since 1991, wildlife managers have been experimenting with capturing, working-up and releasing nuisance bears back into the same area. The work-up involves tranquilizing the animal and performing a safe medical examination on the bear. While the procedure is harmless to the bear, it is apparently unpleasant and re-instills their fear of humans. This approach allows bears to remain in their home range, but they shy away from the developed areas.

In addition, bear-proof garbage cans have been replaced with larger bear-proof dumpsters in many areas of the park. Volunteers and park staff diligently patrol developed areas in the evenings to watch for bears and to clean up any trash that has been left out. Public education and law enforcement efforts have also been emphasized. So far, the results are encouraging as the number of bears relocated has been greatly reduced.

The Smoky Mountain Mall would like to thank the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for supplying us with this information.

Black Bear Hunting Information




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