Gary Carter/National Park Service
A family trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park gave one visiting family vacation memories that they would likely rather forget.
According to the National Park Service, a family of five was sleeping soundly in their tent at the Elkmont Campground, a 200-site campground eight miles southwest of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, when a 350-pound black bear ripped into their tent and clawed a 3-year-old girl and her mother.
The two survived the attack, but “sustained superficial lacerations to their heads,” a news release reported of the June 12 event.
“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.
“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.”
Bear traps were set at the edge of the campground after the incident was investigated and the bear was deemed a threat to humans. The bear returned to the campsite the following day and “boldly entered the trap without wariness.”
“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. 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 bear was “humanely euthanized,” but the campground remained open to visitors after a bear warning was issued. The National Park Service recommends that campers avoid using tents and other soft-sided shelters while camping at the site.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the “largest designated regions where black bears exist in the U.S. ” It is common for tourists to see a black bear during a visit as an estimated 1500 of them live in the Smokies. Black bears rarely attack humans, and only a handful of incidents have been reported at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with two being fatal. The most recent occurred in September 2020, when a bear killed a camper in the Hazel Creek Area, McClatchy News reported.