The June 12 incident has led authorities to caution visitors against camping in tents and other soft-sided shelters at the Elkmont Campground for the time being.
“A three-year-old girl and her mother received superficial scratches to their heads. The father was able to eventually scare the bear from the site and wildlife biologists are monitoring the area,” the National Park Service said in a warning posted on the campground’s reservations website.
The bear was captured by wildlife biologists and euthanized on Monday, June 13, according to the National Park Service.
“The bear weighed approximately 350 pounds, which is not standard for this time of year, suggesting the bear had previous and likely consistent access to non-natural food sources,” said Lisa McInnis, Chief of Resource Management. “In this incident, the bear was likely attracted to food smells throughout the area, including dog food at the involved campsite. It is very difficult to deter this learned behavior and, as in this case, the result can lead to an unacceptable risk to people.”
The Elkmont Campground remains open, but two loop roads are temporarily closed for safety reasons, the park service said in the bear warning. Multiple campsites are also now closed. Elkmont Campground is located eight miles from Gatlinburg and is the largest and busiest campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“Camping in bear country is inherently risky. It is critical that all campers follow food storage regulations and bear safety guidelines,” the park service said in the online warning.
Wildlife experts emphatically warn people against feeding bears. Once fed, the bears continue coming back for more and will become aggressive about it — putting people’s lives at risk and causing the bear to be euthanized.
A black bear that aggressively attacked a home near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundary was recently captured and euthanized. The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency says the bear was reported after it apparently smelled food cooking inside the home and began pawing at a door frame, slamming into the glass.
Feeding bears also teaches them to overcome their instinctive fear of humans — rewarding them for approaching people the same way that a treat rewards a dog. This includes unintentional feedings, like allowing bears to eat garbage or pet food.
Last month, a Michigan family visiting Gatlinburg was surprised to find a bear breaking into their pickup. As the family watched from inside a cabin, the bear opened the door to their pickup and eventually found a bag of M&M. The entire incident was caught on camera. It’s unclear if this is the same bear that tore into the Elmont tent.