TWRA and Anakeesta working to reduce human-bear conflict

Published 9:15 am Wednesday, June 26, 2024

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Following an incident involving a black bear and a person at a tourist attraction, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and Anakeesta Mountaintop Adventure Park are working together to improve park safety and make it less attractive to bears.

Anakeesta borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is a popular destination for both tourists and unfortunately, black bears. That’s about to change.

TWRA and Anakeesta officials met today and discussed measures to address temporary garbage storage and food access issues inside the park.  Since the incident, which occurred last Thursday evening, Anakeesta has purchased temporary electric fencing and electrified “unwelcome mats” to be used when the park is closed to guests. The park has also ordered steel caging to secure concession stand doors and to better contain garbage before it is taken to one of their two large trash compactors. “We applaud Anakeesta for recognizing areas where they can improve on restricting bears’ access to garbage and human foods,” says TWRA Wildlife and Forestry Chief, Joe Benedict. “We feel this synergistic approach will benefit both park guests and bears.”

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Anakeesta’s staff is equally encouraged. “Our team is expanding our partnership with TWRA by implementing new initiatives to keep bears and people safe during their Smoky Mountain vacations,” said Bryce Bentz, Anakeesta President. “We are making improvements to our park every day with guidance from local agencies on how to stay ‘BearWise’.” Anakeesta’s Communications Manager, Austin Martin, goes on to say, “Anakeesta is continuously working to improve the safety and security of our park, including limiting bear interactions. We are dedicated to keeping our native wildlife protected in their natural habitat.” 

 Last Thursday around 9:30 p.m., a bear entered a concession stand through an employee entrance where several people were standing in line. The bear stood on its hind legs for a few seconds looking at the guests and eating food, then exited through the doorway as an employee was entering. The bear and the employee surprised each other and the bear made brief physical contact with the employee causing minor, superficial injuries to the employee’s arm and back. 

Following the incident, TWRA began trapping and has caught several bears including a female with four cubs, as well as a larger male bear with ear tags indicating it has been involved in ongoing bear research. These bears were released onsite and have not been recaught. Another bear fitting the description of the bear involved in the concession stand incident was also caught and has been euthanized. 

“TWRA does not enjoy having to euthanize any wildlife, especially bears and we don’t do it indiscriminately,” says Dan Gibbs, TWRA Black Bear Coordinator. “We utilize what we call the “Bear Conflict Matrix,” which was developed by wildlife professionals as a guide for addressing human/bear conflict. In this incident, the bear entered a concession stand with humans present and made physical contact with an employee causing minor injuries. Unfortunately, this bear was not a candidate for relocation.”

Anakeesta officials also expressed interest in becoming a recognized “BearWise Business” and hope to help expand the program to other area businesses.