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If you’ve been to Cades Cove before, you’ve probably seen the unofficial mascot of the Smokies: the black bear. There are about 1,500 black bears in the Smoky Mountains. They prefer to live in mountainous terrain where they can be away from people. We want to share some things you may not know about this beautiful animal. Check out these 4 things to know about black bears in the Smoky Mountains:
1. Like to Be Alone
Black bears in the Smoky Mountains prefer to be alone. They don’t travel in a group. If there is an abundant food supply, these bears might come together and eat, but once they’ve had their fill, they will move on individually. Cubs stay with their mother for about 1.5 years, but then they journey out on their own.
2. Smallest Species in the US
There are 3 dominant species of bear in the United States: the polar bear, the grizzly bear, and then the black bear. Black bears are the smallest of the three species. Females are smaller than males, and weight can vary from 100 to 600 pounds. The average male black bear weighs about 250 pounds, while females weigh over 100. They stand about 3 feet tall at the shoulder and are 6 feet long. While they may be the smallest species, they are still quite large compared to humans.
3. Number of Cubs
A female black bear can have 1 to 6 cubs at a time. On average, a litter of black bears has 2 to 3 cubs. The mother takes care of her babies for about 1.5 years, and then the cubs venture out on their own. Female black bears reproduce once every 2 years. Many mothers and babies have been spotted in Cades Cove over the years.
4. Omnivore Diet
Just like people, black bears are omnivores, or creatures that eat plants and meat. Some of the things black bears eat include plants, nuts, berries, honey, insects, and animal carrion. Since people do live near the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, bears will sometimes venture out to where they smell food or garbage. This is why trash in Cades Cove must be removed from the picnic areas and you should be careful how you store food when you go hiking.
If you see a black bear while in Cades Cove or any other part of the park, you should not approach it. Stay at least 50 yards away from these animals if you see them, or else you could get hurt. Then the bear would have to be euthanized.
In addition to giving bears their space, we should do everything we can to keep them safe in their environment, which includes proper cleanup of litter. Put all garbage in bear-proof containers or take it with you. Do not feed the animals directly. Use food cable straps when in the backcountry to keep food out of reach.
Seeing black bears in the Smoky Mountains is exciting and a fun experience. For even more information on wildlife you can see while you’re in Cades Cove, look at our Cades Cove wildlife blog.