A 350-pound bear ripped into a sleeping family’s tent inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park before clawing a mother and 3-year-old girl, according to the National Park Service.
The two survived the encounter, but “sustained superficial lacerations to their heads,” the park service said in a news release.
Investigators say the attack happened Sunday, June 12, at the Elkmont Campground, a 200-site camping area eight miles southwest of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
“A family of five were sleeping in their tent at Elkmont, with their dog, when a black bear ripped into the tent at approximately 5:20 a.m.,” park officials said in the release.
“After gaining access to the inside of the tent, the bear scratched a 3-year-old girl and her mother. The father was able to scare the bear from the tent and campsite, but only after several attempts. The family left a note at the campground office to report the incident and departed the campground to seek medical attention.”
An investigation resulted in bear traps being set at the southwestern edge of the campground. The bear returned to the campsite the next day, “boldly entering the trap without wariness.” The bear was “(humanely) euthanized” Monday, June 13, after being deemed a threat to humans, park officials said.
“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,” according to Lisa McInnis, the park’s 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,” she said. “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 National Park Service says “human-bear conflicts peak in late May and June when natural foods, like berries, are not yet available.” At such times, bears are attracted to garbage at campgrounds and picnic sites.
Elkmont Campground remains open, but a bear warning has been issued and the National Park Service is recommending campers not use “tents and soft-sided shelters.”
Only two bear-related human fatalities have been reported inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the National Park Service says. The most recent occurred in September 2020, when a bear killed a camper in the Hazel Creek Area, McClatchy News reports.