5 facts about black bears

June 9, 2016  |  Permalink

Did you know that TWRA estimated there were 3,500-5,000 black bears in Tennessee in 2012? This included some 1,800 in state and national parks, according to a story from WBIR-TV. We share our public lands with a variety of animals, including bears, and we want to make sure you are “beary” aware of how to stay safe this summer.

Here are 5 facts you need to know about black bears in Tennessee:


1. Black bears don’t just live in the Smokies.

It’s true that a large number of the bears live in the Smoky Mountains. However, it is becoming more common to find bears on the Cumberland Plateau. Places as far north as Pickett CCC Memorial State Park and as far west as Edgar Evins State Park have documented sightings of bears near the parks. It’s important to assume that if you’re in the woods in Middle or East Tennessee, you might be sharing the forest with a black bear.

2. Despite their name, black bears can be other colors.

It might come as a disappointing revelation, but black bears can be blue-gray, blue-black, brown, cinnamon or even (very rarely) white. (National Geographic)

3. Black bears excel at multiple sports.

Black bears would probably perform well in the animal Olympics. They are excellent swimmers, are frequently seen climbing trees, and can run up to 30 miles per hour. If they could ride a bike, they would dominate a triathlon. (National Park Service)

4. Black bears are opportunistic eaters.

Black bears are opportunistic eaters. Like humans, they are omnivores. Their diet consists of grasses, roots, berries, and insects. They will also eat fish and mammals and easily develop a taste for human food and garbage. Bears that grow accustomed to human food at campsites, cabins, or rural homes can become dangerous and are often euthanized—thus the frequent reminder: Please don't feed the bears! (Paragraph taken from National Geographic)

5. Black bears that don’t eat human food live longer.

The average black bear lives 12-15 years. However, bears with access to human foods and garbage have a life expectancy of half as long. It’s hard to blame the bears though. The tantalizing smell of human food and garbage is just too much for them to resist.  It changes their behavior, causes them to lose their instinctive fear of humans and puts them at higher risk of car accidents and poachers. This is in addition to any damage to property or injury people sustain when the bear is trying to get to the food. We urge visitors to view all wildlife from a safe distance and to dispose of and store all food in the proper way. (More information about bear diets available at the National Park Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency)


Be Bear Aware

Black bears are one of Tennessee’s treasures. Please remember to respect their beauty, space and habitat. As always, do not physically provide any food to the bears in Tennessee - this is crucial to keeping the bears and park visitors safe. For more information about bear safety on your next adventure, visit bebearaware.org

About the author

Josh Gibson