On the second weekend of September, a group of hikers set out on the North Carolina arm of the Hazel Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. None of them were prepared, however for what they found on the trail: Human remains, being scavenged by a bear. This is what we know so far.
Bear Eats Man at Great Smoky National Park
While out on the trail, a group of hikers passed by what they thought was an abandoned campsite. Upon closer look, there were human body parts scattered around the area alongside a tent and sleeping bag. Nearby they then spotted a black bear that was scavenging the area.
Horrified, the hikers made their way to an area with cell reception as quickly as possible to notify park rangers. The rangers received the call shortly after 7 pm on Friday, September 11. (1)
Not long after midnight the park staff arrived at the campsite, site number 82, and confirmed that these were the remains of a human male. The bear was still there actively scavenging the area. (1)
The man has been identified as 43-year-old Patrick Madura of Elgin, Illinois. He had a multi-night backcountry reservation for only himself, beginning on the night of September 8, three days prior. (2)
Currently, it is unclear as to whether he was killed by the bear or if he died of other causes and the bear found him afterward. An autopsy was scheduled for this past Tuesday, September 15, however, the results are still unknown. (2)
The bear in question is a black bear. This species is native to the region. When the rangers arrived on the scene, they, unfortunately, had to euthanize the bear on-site. Though it is still unknown if the bear actually attacked Madura, now that he has eaten human remains he is too high-risk. (2)
“Our wildlife biologists who are experts in dealing with bear-human conflict believe that once a bear has scavenged on human remains, there is a high potential that they’re going to continue that behavior,” said park spokeswoman Jamie Sanders. “And so we believe that they may pose a serious threat to visitor safety.” (2)
That section of the Hazel Creek Trail is temporarily closed, which falls on the North Carolina size. (2)
Black Bears in Great Smoky National Park
There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1600 black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains. Though bear attacks are rare, there have been five known bear attacks in park history with one fatality. Unfortunately for the bears, an attack means immediate euthanization. (2)
The four previous attacks are as follows:
- 2015: Site 84, a 16-year-old boy was pulled out of his hammock by his scalp while sleeping by a bear. He was rescued by his father who managed to scare away the bear. The boy barely avoided a serious injury. (2)
- 2018: Rangers discovered a bear scavenging human remains at a site in Townsend. They later confirmed that the man died of a meth overdose, not a bear attack. (2)
- 2000: A bear attacked and killed a 50-year-old woman in the Elkmont area. (3)
- 2008: A bear pounced on an 8-year-old boy for unknown reasons while playing in a creek. He scared it off, however, it returned. His father scared the bear away, however, both required hospitalization for their injuries. (4)
As is with park protocol, all the bears involved had to be euthanized by park officials.
Black Bear Safety
Great Smoky Mountain National Park warns strongly against approaching bears or allowing them to approach you. Willingly coming within 150 feet or any distance that is clearly disturbing the bear is illegal. It is imperative that all visitors to the park check the “Bear Closures” and “Bear Warnings” sections in the temporary closures section of the website before their trip. (5)
The website states the following protocols if you do encounter a bear during your visit:
If you see a bear
- Remain watchful.
- Do not approach it
- Do not allow the bear to approach you.
- If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior (stops feeding, changes its travel direction, watches you, etc.) you are too close.
- Being too close may promote aggressive behavior from the bear such as running toward you, making loud noises, or swatting the ground. The bear is demanding more space. Don’t run, but slowly back away, watching the bear. Increase the distance between you and the bear. The bear will probably do the same. (5)
If a bear persistently follows or approaches you, without vocalizing, or paw swatting
- Change your direction.
- If the bear continues to follow you, stand your ground.
- If the bear gets closer, talk loudly or shout at it.
- Act aggressively to intimidate the bear.
- Act together as a group if you have companions. Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground).
- Throw non-food objects such as rocks at the bear.
- Use a deterrent such as a stout stick.
- Don’t run and don’t turn away from the bear.
- Don’t leave food for the bear; this encourages further problems. (5)
If the bear’s behavior indicates that it is after your food and you are physically attacked
- Separate yourself from the food.
- Slowly back away. (5)
If the bear shows no interest in your food and you are physically attacked, the bear may consider you as prey
- Fight back aggressively with any available object!
- Do not play dead!
Most importantly, it is every park-goers responsibility to properly store their food and dispose of their garbage. Leaving unattended food or garbage at a campsite or on a trail can lead to human-bear encounters and not only endangers your own life but also that of the bear. (5)
Before visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park or any other area with an active bear population, learn and follow the proper protocols so that both humans and bears can continue to enjoy the incredible nature the world has to offer.
Please note that best practices when encounterings bears can differ by type (i.e. black bear or grizzly bear). FOr more info check out the National Park Service Website
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