It’s every camper’s worst nightmare. This past week, a teen sleeping in a hammock was attacked by a bear during a camping visit to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. The teen’s father was able to drive the bear away before they escaped.
The teen, who has now been identified as Gabriel Alexander, suffered bite marks and had to be hospitalized. Luckily, he is reported to be in stable condition, and conscious. Officials have since closed several trails and campsites; it will likely take some time, though, for officials to track down the bear (if they can at all), seeing as how the park covers over 530,000 acres throughout North Carolina and Tennessee.
According to park officials, the boy and his father were on a camping trip and had properly stored all their packs, food and equipment; improperly stored food and garbage is frequently a precipitant of bear encounters and, occasionally, attacks. Biologists indicate that a situation in which humans did nothing to spur on the attack is fairly rare; however, May and June are the likeliest time for bear attacks in the Smokey Mountains because the summer foods, like berries, have not yet arrived for the bears to munch on.
How can you avoid getting attacked by a bear while camping? Again, the likelihood of having a negative bear encounter is exceedingly rare. However, there are a few things you can keep in mind.
One important part of staying safe is simply keeping your distance. In today’s selfie age, it can be tempting to edge a little closer to get that perfect shot of you in the foreground, and a wild bear in the background. In campgrounds like the Smokey Mountains, however, choosing to get within 50 yards of a bear, or choosing to disturb one, is against the law — and this is important for protecting the bear and the campers.
Proper food storage is also important. A food locker is recommended for any food you are not currently eating. Do not rely on tents or cars to keep bears away from food; this will only result in a ruined tent. In many areas, counterbalance food hangs are no longer considered legal, and bear canisters are considered the only proper way for storing food overnight. For those campers who don’t feel confident in their storage abilities, a cabin rental with closed doors and windows is also an acceptable solution. There are many cabin rentals in Tennessee and North Carolina available for Smokey Mountain campers.
Whether or not you keep your food in a cabin rental, remember that bears are wild animals. Teaching them to rely on humans in any way — leaving food for them, trash out, etc. — will only encourage them to approach other campsites in the future.