Gatlinburg onlookers chase bear

Video shows animal hiding at convention center, fleeing crowds
Sep. 11, 2013 @ 11:55 PM

The cellphone footage went viral: A yearling black bear wanders along the Parkway as people chase it and try to get their own pictures or video. But in some eyes, it’s an example of how not to react when a wild animal wanders into an urban area.

The video, posted Saturday to Facebook by Tricia Alexander of Knoxville for public consumption, starts with the bear near the Gatlinburg Convention Center, with people on the busy sidewalks starting to take pictures. It flees the crowds of people, hiding in the covered entrance until people start to get close there as well.

Eventually, the bear runs along the sidewalk and into the road before jumping back on the walkway and crossing along a busy crosswalk, amidst another group of surprised pedestrians.

It then runs through the crowd before trotting into an alley, while people are still pursuing it with cameras running.

While Alexander appears to stay several dozen feet away from the bear, some get much closer. At one point, as it tries to flee the convention center entrance, the bear turns back because of the people closing in. One man can be seen running from the bear as it finally leaves the entrance. A woman on the crosswalk turns within a few feet of the bear and leans in to get a picture.

Scott Reasor, with the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, said he’d seen the video, and that he hoped people would realize it’s a bad idea idea to crowd a wild animal, especially a predator the size of the black bear.

“We advise people when they see a bear, even when it is in town like that, to stand back and let it have its breathing room. It’s more than likely looking for an exit like that one was.”

If people want to get pictures or footage of the bear, they should use a zoom feature or zoom lens to take them from a safe distance and without approaching a scared wild animal, he said.

Reasor said he’d been in contact with the Gatlinburg Police Department about the incident and that they had sent officers to find the bear, but the animal had fled from the alley into nearby woods before they arrived.

“It was able to find an area that was more suitable bear habitat than the convention center,” he said. “I’m assuming it got its fill of Gatlinburg and took off.”

The bear appeared to be a yearling or a little bit older, he said, meaning it was a young bear that had recently started to fend for itself.

“It looked like it had been properly weaned and was trying to figure things out on where to go. More than likely it had found some dumpsters open and was exploring and looking for more free food.”

Reasor hoped that would serve as a reminder to Gatlinburg residents and businesses to keep their garbage safely put away where it won’t attract bears.

There have not been as many bear sightings this summer as in recent years, he said, and he credited that to a strong berry season that left bears with plenty of food in more remote areas.

It’s not just garbage that can attract bears, he said. This time of year especially, they can be attracted to the seed in birdfeeders, and he urged people to bring their birdfeeders in for a few weeks to avoid unwanted close encounters.

“They are definitely looking for natural food, and when they can’t find natural food they will start looking for what we leave out,” he said.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com