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Bear injures campers at Elkmont

Bear injures campers at Elkmont

A bear has been euthanized after it broke into a tent occupied by a family of five and their dog, injuring a 3-year-old girl and her mother. 

The incident occurred at approximately 5:20 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, at Elkmont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The father was able to scare the bear from the tent and campsite, but only after several attempts. The family left to seek medical attention, leaving a note at the campground office to report the incident. Both mother and daughter sustained superficial lacerations to their heads. 

The male bear weighed about 350 pounds, unusually high for this time of year. This suggests that the bear previously had consistent access to non-natural food sources, said Chief of Resource Management Lisa McInnis. 

“In this incident, the bear was likely attracted to food smells throughout the area, including dog food at the involved campsite,” McInnis said. “It is very difficult to deter this learned behavior and, as in this case, the result can lead to an unacceptable risk to people.” 

Campground hosts alerted park officials of the incident at about 8:50 a.m. Rangers closed the immediate area, interviewed the father of the involved family along with other campers, and collected information such as bear tracks and other markers to identify the bear. Then they set traps and monitored the site for bear activity. 

A male bear matching the physical description of the attacking bear entered the campsite where the incident had occurred. He exhibited “extreme food-conditioned behavior and lack of fear of humans, boldly entering the trap without wariness,” according to a press release. 

Biologists matched the bear to the one responsible for the attack using physical measurements and descriptors along with observed bear behavior. The bear was humanely euthanized Monday, June 13. 

Park staff concluded that the bear’s behavior was not consistent with predatory behavior but rather with food conditioning. Human-bear conflicts peak in late May and June when natural foods, like berries, are not yet available. Food and garbage smells in developed areas like campgrounds and picnic areas attract them. Campers should be sure to follow proper food storage regulations to prevent encounters. 

Though rare, bears can attack humans, causing injury or death. If attacked by a black bear, fight back with any object available and remember that the bear may view you as prey. For more information about bear safety, visit bearwise.org. To report a bear incident in the park, call 865.436.1230.

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