Monday, May 17, 2010

Black Bear Attacks Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor on Popular Hiking Trail as Horrified Crowd Watches Helpless in Disbelief.

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.

Black Bear Attacks Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor on Popular Hiking Trail as Horrified Crowd Watches.

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.

dangerous black bear encounter occurred along the extremely popular Laurel Falls hiking trail

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.

food enticements make good wildlife go bad

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.

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

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.

dog that was tied up attached to a car parked as close as possible to where there was a black bear warning sign.

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.

Related Smokies News Stories:

Recent Bear attacks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park


calamitylill said...

"if you are caught, expect to get a nice ticket from a not so happy park ranger."
Really? But this guy got "within inches" of the bear, clearly against the CFR definition of harassing wildlife and was not issued a citation? The threat does not hold weight unless park officers back it up when it matters.

jen said...

Exactly what I was going to say. What good is the threat if it is never carried out!

Smokies Hiker said...

calamitylill I agree with you 100%. The lack of any citations will only make enforcement of park rules harder.

The problem according to the park is in this case dozens of people were guilty of encroaching on the small black bear that was near the trail and that the people are not guilty if there is "inadvertent or casual encounters in developed areas, i.e., campground roads or in other areas where there is no reasonable alternative travel route" such as this trail.

Last week I waited more than 1/2 hour for a timber rattler to move far enough to the side of the Injun Creek manway that I could pass him safely. I did not get too close, throw rocks or move it with a stick.

One of the phone calls I just got about this story stated that the man who was bitten should have to witness them euthanize the poor animal to remember that this was done as a direct result of his deeds.

Chris Hibbard

calamitylill said...

Chris, I'd interpret that clause differently. When camping in Cosby, a bear walked through our campsite. We had not left food out or anything like that, he (or she) was headed for the trash can nearby which would have been bear-proof if it hadn't been badly damaged by something (maybe a car). Now, i obviously shouldn't have been cited for being within 150 ft of that bear because I had "no reasonable alternative" outside of huddling in my tent praying that the bear hadn't been conditioned to rip open car trunks or heaven forbid tents (even though I myself did not have food in the tent) in search of goodies. Had I gotten out of my tent and followed the bear around for a photo op, then I would have been violating the rules. I think it's clear where the difference lies and I am sure that so too did the ranger (or rangers) in this case.

I also understand that they are understaffed, but maybe more volunteers would mean that the rangers would be more able handle this sort of thing as is obviously needed and then with more citations would come more revenue and potentially more rangers?

You have a great blog, keep it up!

Anonymous said...

When I read the first part of the I had heard about the bloody shoes, etc.
I wonder how many other people read the first part and didn't continue reading the rest. The point can be gotten across without sensationalism, and painting an incorrect picture of bear behavior.

What will get the point across is to fine this guy and give him a few days in jail so people see what happen when you violate the rules! There are so many signs in the park, that no one can claim ignorance of their actions.
The dog story was the height of stupidity. Did no one see the dog tied up? As usual the bear is painted as the villain. There are warnings on the GSMP website about consequences. No one inforces them, so why expect that people are going to comply? What's going to stop people from removing things from the park such as wildflowers and other objects if there's no punishment? Start enforcing the penalties and don't let people like this get away with harassing wildlife. You know who the person is, so do something so people know you mean business. Otherwise, you know the behavior won't stop.

Smokies Hiker said...

Thanks you for the compliment. I have had major issues keeping up with posting news and I am so wrapped in the park on a daily basis but at least try to tweet updates often, which can also be found on this blog.

As for being understaffed, yes the park is greatly understaffed in many areas.

As for more volunteers, we have thousands of people who volunteer some time in the park. I myself volunteer in the park and my group has a waiting list of people who want to get in.

As park volunteers, our job is to educate visitors about ethical wildlife viewing and not enforce park rules. I work alongside 79 other volunteers in my section and yes, it does free up Protection Rangers to write tickets and go after poachers.

As for "more citations would come more revenue and potentially more rangers" I can tell you from experience, they LOSE money on many tickets.

I had a black bear incident in the park last summer that involved what appeared to be baiting of rotting meat to attract bear in the back of a truck. The same bear was also fed by people earlier in the day.

The cost to bring a ranger over to my section, the ticket he wrote to the offender, the cost of wildlife technician that had to get a truck and a trap, the hours he took to find and tranquilize the mother bear and find and tranquilize her 4 cubs and move them was many times more than what the ticket was for. The loser was the bear, her cubs and the taxpayers - and that time we got the "bad guy"!

My comments about why a citation was not written were not my personal interpretation but a direct quote from the park. I have tremendous respect for the people work there as they are doing a tremendous job given the resources they have.

Bear management is people management more than anything else. Bears are put down in the GSMNP if they are caught breaking into cars, going into tents with people or hurting humans. Luckily, only 1 bear a year on average has to meet this unfortunate fate.

Injuries to human are extremely rare and a fatality occurred only once.

We have so few problems because most visitors behave reasonably well, there is an awesome staff that works in the wildlife department and maintenance does a great job cleaning up after slobs in the park.

I have to say 99.999% of the visitors act wisely or at least with some sort of thought for their own preservation.

Unfortunately, when you bring in millions, a 1 in a million jerk happens almost once a month.

Would I like to see heavy fines and jail time for offenders? You betcha, and most of the park staff feels the same way. Tell it to the judges.

Chris Hibbard

Smokies Hiker said...

Sometimes you have to hit people over the head with a brick to make a point. This will be read 10s of thousands of times and if it wakes up just a few dozen people, how many injuries will be avoided and wild animals saved?

Did someone stop reading past the 2nd or 3rd paragraph? Maybe.

Was I “painting an incorrect picture of bear behavior”? In this attack, I sure was.

Could this attack have turned out as bad as the picture I have painted if the bear got older? Absolutely. Everyone around the bear was very lucky.

Of course the bear is painted as a villain, she is losing her life!

The same thing will happen when someone will be kicked or gored by one of our elk, or bitten by a snake they pick up for fun.

Harsher treatment for violators? You’re preaching to the choir!

Chris Hibbard

Adayak said...

I can't believe that picture of the dog tied up to the car. Where is common sense in some people?!

Anonymous said...

Thankfully, the person who photographed the bear that had to be killed, Sean M. Konover of Wilton, Conn has been charged with willfully approaching the bear in a way that caused the animal to be disturbed or displaced. His actions definitely caused the bear to be eventually killed.

Smokies Hiker said...

The outrage about this incident has been overwhelming and I was delighted to find out yesterday he was being charged however, while Sean M. Konover was being changed other potentially serious bear and visitor interactions have been playing out the past 3 weeks in other parts of the park.

2010 is going to be a very tough year with bear and I am working on a another story right now.

Anonymous said...

His charges were dropped and he did nothing wrong. Only in TN does a "Yankee" get arrested for being bit by a bear.

Grizzly said...

Eat em all Smokey.. especially the animal rights activists.

Anonymous said...

I honestly wish they would start charging day use fees or require people to purchase annual passes to enter Smoky Mountain NP, it has more than twice the vistors than the next most visited NP has and I would say it's a safe bet those extra 5 million visitors are the ones who have no respect for the park or it's wildlife...the idoits who feel it's just fine to feed the wildlife to get a family photo to remember or a video to post on youtube.