Last Wednesday as Mr. and Mrs. McQueen were hiking along the Laurel Falls Hiking Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains national park admiring the wildflowers, lush forest growth and pretty views along the way to the Laurel Falls Waterfall, a large female black bear which had been food conditioned and lost its natural fear of humans, jumped out of bushes along the trail and proceeded to gnaw off appendages from the couple as a group of horrified people looked on.
Blood, shredded shoes, clothing, and other remnants of the carnage lay scattered along the trail a gruesome reminder to all of the danger and power that a black bear welds with its bone crushing jaws, large teeth and razor sharp claws.
Great Smoky Mountains national park wildlife biologists going on the description of the dangerous human conditioned black bear trapped all the bear they could in the area that the attack on the hiker occurred.
Since they only had a general description, they systemically slaughtered every black bear they could find including the orphaned black bear cubs that are only a few months old and could not fend for themselves.
This story is loosely based upon a true event that just happened in the Great Smoky Mountains national park. Well make that very loosely. Well make that a compete exaggeration to make a very valid point.
A 26 year old hiker from Wilton, Connecticut named Sean Konover did in fact sustain minor injuries last week when in an effort to get a picture of a small 60 pound female black bear, he and dozens of other visitors around him insisted in disregarding common sense by allowing a bear to approach them too closely. Close enough in fact to bite the hiker, Sean Konovers foot, leaving a small puncture would that did not require any medical attention.
This dangerous black bear encounter occurred along the extremely popular Laurel Falls hiking trail, which traditionally not only has a tremendous amount of hikers but black bear as well, many which are food conditioned each year.
Black bear along with other wildlife get food conditioned when people intentionally or inadvertently allow wildlife to consume food or garbage. People sometimes throw food at wildlife to coax it to come closer than it normally would just to see it up close and or photograph it.
Unfortunately, a good conditioned animal is trained that humans and human scent means food and it will lose some or all of its fear of humans making it more likely to beg for more food, steal food or attack someone for food. It may attack to protect territory where it would have normally run away before food conditioning.
Food conditioned animals generally lose half their life expectancy as their health can be adversely effected by human food and garbage, they are more susceptible to getting hit by cars, or have to be killed because they no longer are acting wild and they damaged property or threatened the safety of humans. What a tragic waste.
Though you may only be giving human food to an animal, you are teaching it to eat or at least examine anything that has a human scent.
Food conditioned animals may also eat non-food items such as foil potato chip bags because it smells like food and taste salty. Can you imagine what you would feel like if you ate a foil potato chip bag?
Animals cannot discriminate as to what garbage is because what smells like food in a natural environment is in fact food. Only humans produce garbage.
Peanut shells, apple cores and orange peels though biodegradable are enticements that make good wildlife go bad. Throw it on the ground and if you are caught, expect to get a nice ticket from a not so happy park ranger.
After the minor black bear attack the GSMNP officials initially learned of the incident from other visitors that were also on the Laurel Falls trail, but later, the injured man Sean Konover also reported his injury.
Intentionally approaching a bear or elk closer than 50 yards (150 feet) or close enough that it changes the animals behavior, is a violation of park regulation meant to protect humans as well as the parks wildlife. No citations were issued by the park service at this incident.
As for the young 60-pound black bear, she is not so lucky. A bullet to head is her fate. Why? Because some people wanted to take a picture of a black bear up close after others who came to visit the Great Smoky Mountains national park were slobs and left garbage along a hiking trail or may have thrown food at wildlife in violation of park rules and a ticketable offense.
Fortunately, she was not a mother bear with young cubs where as her death sentence would mean a death sentence for her offspring. She had identifiable features so fortunately a large number of bear did not have to be captured and killed to be sure to get the offending black bear that attacked the hiker was stopped form hurting anyone else. Also fortunate was the fact that she was able to be caught within 24 hours and no one else was injured.
As expected this has been a very active year for black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains national park already mainly due to the lighter than normal mast crop in mid elevations of the park so that the fall feeding frenzy did not fatten up the black bear as much as a good year would. As a result, this spring they emerged a little more hungry and desperate for food than most years.
This year has also been tough on young black bear cubs in the park some of which had to be rescued and brought to the Appalachian Bear Rescue center who desperately needs more food to feed and funding and supplies to help house all of the rescued black bears that have been brought to them.
With more than 9 million visitors a year coming to the Great Smoky Mountains national park, which has a black bear population of more than 2 per square mile, it's not a question of if there will be another fatal or serious black bear attack will occur but when. If all of us who are on the park behave appropriately and do not feed animal or approach them too closely, maybe the next attack will not be in our lifetime.
Not feeding wildlife intentionally or approaching them too close are important first steps. Securing garbage in sealed bear proof garbage pails is also important as well as not leaving coolers with food or the smell of food or even garbage in the back of a pickup truck. If you are camping in the backcountry all food, garbage, toiletries and smelly clothes have to be hung on the bear proof wires and elevated where bear cannot reach it.
Finally, I have seen many crazy and foolish things in the Great Smoky Mountains National park, but this one amazes me every time I think about it. Last May a black bear was causing serious issues on the Abrams Falls Hiking trail in Cades Cove, so much so, a warning was posted at the trailhead and the bear was so dangerous that the Abrams Falls Hiking trail was closed due to aggressive black bear activity the next day.
Pictured above is a dog that was tied up attached to a car parked as close as possible to where there was a black bear warning sign. Left out in case the dog got thirsty was a dirty spaghetti can filled with water that had a slick of oil and tomato sauce on the top.
She left her dog this way for more than 3 hours as she hiked. This is enticing a bear with both food and a pet which is tied up that certainly can't run away or fend for itself.
Please act responsibly around wildlife and the life you may save could be your own.
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