For the residents and regular visitors of Gatlinburg – a vacation town tucked against the towering Great Smoky Mountain range along the Tennessee-North Carolina border – the occasional visit from a black bear is not entirely uncommon. But that doesn’t mean when one saunters into town it goes unnoticed (especially if the bear is darting between pedestrians on the sidewalk and playing chicken with the evening traffic).


“I was freaking out!” wrote tourist Amanda Nicole Adams who captured this short clip last week. The bear, which likely strayed into Gatlinburg from the nearby Smoky Mountain National Park, can be seen scaling a small fence before galloping across the street – bringing traffic to a halt and sending tourists ducking for cover into nearby storefronts.

It’s unclear how the bear wound up galumphing amongst the bustling crowds, but it was certainly not on the offensive, and seemed to be searching for the quickest escape route. It’s more likely that the jaywalker was attracted by the enticing smell of discarded trash and inadvertently found itself mingling with the locals.

Black bears – although dangerous – will typically shy away from confrontation. Attacks on humans are rare and usually come from bears that have become habituated to human garbage or handouts – a trash addiction that often seals the fate of these animals. Just last month, wildlife officials trapped and later euthanised three bears in Gatlinburg after they became a threat to the town’s residents. According to reports the bears had been spotted breaking into vehicles and homes, sometimes chasing people away to get at an easy meal.

According to Matt Cameron of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, feeding bears – whether deliberately or as a result of carelessly discarding one’s garbage - causes the animals to "lose their natural fear of humans and results in them exhibiting threatening behaviour.”

There are an estimated 1,600 black bears roaming the Smoky Mountains surrounding Gatlinburg, so encounters like this are almost inevitable. Officials have stressed the importance of giving the bears space, keeping food safely secured away from prying paws, and to report any bear sightings to the TWRA, using the website's nifty ISAB (I Saw A Bear) tool.

As for the recent street sprinter, it’s likely that the bear made a safe getaway into the surrounding wilderness. For the sake of the locals (and the bear), let’s hope it sticks to its natural habitat in future.


Header image: Ben Forsyth