Smoky Mountains tourists caught on camera feeding bears from lodge balcony

Black bear eating grass in the wild
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A family has been caught on camera feeding bears from their rented lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains, putting the animals and the public at risk. According to USA Today, which published the video, the incident took place in downtown Gatlinburg, which often serves as a base for people visiting nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

USA Today reports that the clip was shot last week by Michelle Payne, who spotted the group, including two young children, tossing food to the animals. According to Payne, police managed to scare the bears away by sounding their car sirens. However, the animals returned later, illustrating exactly why feeding wildlife is such a problem, however well-intentioned.

When wild animals are fed by people, they often lose their natural wariness (a phenomenon called habituation), and are more likely to approach people and settlements in future. This increases the chances of a dangerous close encounter if the animal believes its food source is threatened.

Habituated bears that are deemed a threat to public safety may be relocated or even euthanized. They are also more likely to be hit by cars, or be easy targets for poachers.

Bear safety

The National Park Service (NPS) warns visitors that bears can be found throughout the Smokies, and over the last decade an average of 339 negative human-bear encounters have been reported each year (with many more going undocumented). 

"The bear's keen sense of smell leads it to insects, nuts, and berries, but the animal is also enticed by the tantalizing smells of human food and garbage such as hot dogs, apple cores, chips, and watermelon rinds left on the ground in picnic areas, campgrounds, and along trails," says the NPS.

Not only can bears that have access to human food become unpredictable and dangerous, they can also teach others where to find scraps and garbage, exacerbating the problem.

People who feed bears, store food improperly, or litter within Great Smoky Mountains National Park itself can face fines up to $5,000 and up to six months in jail.

USA Today has contacted police in Gatlinburg and the owners of the lodge regarding the incident last week, and is awaiting a reply. 

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.