I’m confident that you’re aware it’s not a wise decision to provoke a bear should you encounter one in the wild.
But according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, one tourist who encountered and provoked a female black bear with cubs at Cades Cove, a popular spot in the Tennessee section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, almost paid dearly for his poor decision.
Paige Marple, a reported local, shot video of the now-viral encounter and posted it on her Facebook page. In the video, the black bear can be seen leading her cubs up from the grass before crossing a road into the woods. Tourists typically park there to catch a glimpse of local wildlife.
The unidentified man can be seen walking around a minivan where the bear was walking with her cubs and then approaching toward the bear with his arms outstretched. He then circled around and appeared to be attempting to signal for the bear to go away.
That’s when he came dangerously close to a trip to the hospital, or worse.
The mama bear rapidly performed a “bluff charge,” a defensive maneuver that mama bears use to protect their cubs, according to Supervisory Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver.
Stiver explained that “in a bluff charge, a bear will “run at you, swat the ground and pop their jaw, that kind of thing.” Essentially, it’s a bear’s go-to maneuver to tell whomever is threatening them to back off before something bad happens.
You can watch the man approaching the bear, as well as the bear’s response to his move, in the Facebook video below.
Park spokesperson Dana Soehn warned that had a park ranger witnessed the man make such a move, he would have likely been cited, as it’s against federal law for tourists to purposely come within 50 yards of a bear. The consequences for the misdemeanor carry a whopping potential $5,000 fine and up to six months in prison.
Luckily for the man, nobody was able to identify him or his vehicle.
“None of the witnesses were able to provide information about the type of vehicle the individual was in or a license plate number or any other identifying information to allow rangers to further investigate,” Soehn said.
There was some initial concern among locals that officials were going to consider euthanizing the bear, but Stiver said only in a situation if the bear had attacked the man would that conversation take place. Even then, the bear would likely not be euthanized since a human provoked the attack.
“In this case, this bear was clearly a female bear,” Stiver said. “It was acting defensively because somebody got too close, and we’re not going to take any action against that bear. I think a lot of people are concerned we are. We are not, not for that incident. That’s just a bear acting normal.”
Bear encounters are not uncommon in the area, with over 100 reported since April, according to Soehn. That’s due in part to the fact that the Smokies region is home to roughly 1,600 black bears.
Even if the man had the best of intentions, his actions were unnecessary and unwise. The mama bear was peacefully leading her cubs and likely wouldn’t have paid attention to the tourists snapping videos and pictures.
Let this be a reminder that nature was designed as a powerful force and will carry on no matter what.
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