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Rangers share bear sighting safety tips after camper is found dead in GSMNP

Bear sighting safety tips
Rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains are providing safety tips for those who may come across a bear after one was found scavenging on a body recently. (Photo credit: WLOS)

The Hazel Creek campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains closed after the discovery of dead camper last week.

Rangers euthanized a bear in the area and they're investigating what might have happened leading to the hard decision to put the bear down. They’re also reminding visitors about safety precautions should they encounter bears in the park.

Rangers say it was the afternoon of Sept. 11 when backpackers discovered an unoccupied tent at campsite 82 in the Hazel Creek trail area. They looked across the creek and discovered the remains of an adult male.

“With a bear actively scavenging on those remains, they quickly retreated from the area,” says Ranger Jamie Sanders.

She says they called 911. Rangers responded and the bear was still present. About midnight, they made the decision to put the bear down.

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“The decision to euthanize a bear is never made lightly," Sanders says. "Bears are iconic figures for the Smokies."

She says once a bear has scavenged on human remains, they could do it again.

An investigation is under way, including an autopsy into how 43-year-old Patrick Madura of Elgin, Illinois died.

“We are hopeful that we will learn something as to the cause of death and to the timing of that death,” says Sanders.

She says Madura had been camping alone.

“That reservation was just for one individual,” she says.

The tragedy is prompting safety reminders.

“It's always smart, especially if you're going to be in the backcountry, hiking or whatever, to try to come as a group,” Sanders says.

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“Most black bears are not aggressive,” says hiker Cate Cash.

She’s hiked every trail in the park.

“I’ve seen probably like about a dozen this season.... Just make sure that you like announce your presence to them. I have never had an issue,” she says.

Cash says be smart about food.

“If you're in the backcountry, hanging up a bear bag or using a bear canister as well as utilizing the facilities that they have at every backcountry campsite in the park,” says Cash.

If you encounter a bear: “It's good to try to give that bear space,” says Sanders. “It's good to back away slowly and to just kind of go off trail, let him see if he'll pass.”

If the bear is persistent, Sanders says, “At that point you want to be really loud. You want to be aggressive. You want to throw rocks, make yourself look big.”

Cash says she thinks in terms of keeping both bears and people safe. “We can all do our part to keep our food safe and away from bears and keep them wild."

Rangers say it’s likely to take several weeks for the results of that autopsy to come in.

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