Bear cub in Tennessee spends 2 months with a pet feeder on its head

a bear cub with a plastic feeder on its head

This bear cub evaded capture for nearly two months with a plastic feeder on its head (photo courtesy of TWRA)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency is once again encouraging residents and visitors to the Smokies to be “BearWise” after a recent incident involving a bear cub and a plastic pet feeder near Chilhowee Lake.

Bear in a Tree with Head Stuck in Pet Feeder
TWRA spent nearly two months working on rescuing the cub to remove the feeder (photo courtesy of the TWRA)

Initial reports were received on Aug. 14

The cub reportedly spent nearly two months with a pet feeder container stuck on its head before a TWRA biologist could come to its rescue. The TWRA received the first report on Aug. 14, when a resident near Chilhowee Lake spotted a sow bear and four cubs on her porch. One of the bears had a pet feeder container stuck on its head. 

According to a press release, TWRA Black Bear Support Biologist Janelle Musser responded and promptly began a trapping effort. She was able to lure the cub into a trap, but it was unable to trigger it because of the container on its head. The trap was moved each time a new sighting was reported, even trying a different style trap with a foot plate trigger. However, the mother had become trap-shy and became difficult to pattern.

On Tuesday, Oct. 3, a resident who had been following the situation reported that the cub was in a nearby tree and Musser was able to dart the animal and remove the container. “Darting bears in trees is not standard practice and is only done in an emergency. This cub would not be able to continue surviving like this,” she said. 

Sleeping Bear Cub With Feeder on His Head Awaits the Feeder Removal
The darted bear cub awaits the removal of the pet feeder (photo courtesy of the TWRA)

The cub is now recovering at the Appalachian Bear Rescue

Despite the long entrapment of its head, the bear did not have any abrasions from the container. In fact, he was in relatively good shape other than his ears being mashed to his head, according to the TWRA. The cub is now recovering at Appalachian Bear Rescue in Townsend. The capture of this bear cub would not have been possible without help from the community reporting sightings, allowing traps on their properties, and being an extra set of eyes, ears and hands.

What is BearWise? 

Bearwise is simply a set of practices that are designed to keep both the bear population and the human population safe in the mountains. 

The TWRA notes that bears are bulking up for winter this time of year and trying to eat upwards of 20,000 calories a day. This makes attractants like garbage, birdseed, and pet food even more alluring to bears. Their sense of smell leads them to the attractants, and they can get an easy, high-calorie meal in a one-stop shop instead of spending hours foraging for acorns, bugs, and other natural foods. Bears that eat foods not found in their habitat near people and homes become accustomed to humans and often must be humanely euthanized to keep people safe.

Residents in bear country can expect to see higher activity levels this time of year and should secure their garbage, remove their birdfeeders, feed pets for limited periods and remove all bowls. This will help keep people, pets, and bears safe.

Feeder That Was Removed From Bear Cub's Head
The feeder that was removed from the cub’s head was likely left on a porch for a pet (photo courtesy of the TWRA)

What does it mean to be BearWise?

Garbage, birdseed, and pet food are the main attractants that bring bears into residents’ yards and porches. In this case, an automatic pet food feeder left out for dogs or cats attracted the bear cub. The cub could surely have died without intervention.

How to be BearWise

  • Never feed or approach bears: Intentionally feeding bears or allowing them to find anything that smells or tastes like food teaches bears to approach homes and people looking for more.
  • Secure food, recycling and garbage: Food and food odors attract bears. So don’t reward them with easily available food, liquids or garbage.
  • Remove bird feeders when bears are active: Birdseed and grains have lots of calories, so they’re very attractive to bears. Removing feeders is the best way to avoid creating conflicts with bears.
  • Never leave pet food outdoors: Feed pets indoors when possible. If you must feed pets outside, feed in single portions and remove bowls afterward. Store pet food where bears can’t see or smell it.
  • Clean and store grills and smokers: Clean grills after each use and make sure that all grease, fat and food particles are removed. Store clean grills and smokers in a secure area that keeps bears out.
  • Alert Neighbors to bear activity: See bears in the area or evidence of bear activity? Tell your neighbors and share info on how to avoid bear conflicts.

If you see a black bear:

  • In a building, by a dumpster or around the corner: Give the bear a clear escape route (do not corner it). Also, leave any doors open as you back away from the bear.
  • In your backyard: From a safe distance, make loud noises, shout, or bang pots and pans together to scare away the bear. When the bear leaves, remove potential attractants such as garbage, bird seed, or pet food.
  • In the woods: If you see a bear before it notices you: stand still, don’t approach and enjoy the moment. Then move away quietly in the opposite direction If you encounter a bear that’s aware of you: don’t run; running may trigger a chase response. Back away slowly in the opposite direction and wait for the bear to leave.

If a bear becomes aggressive:

  • Stand your ground.
  • Back away only when the bear stops its approach.
  • Make yourself look bigger by raising your arms and jacket, and/or standing on a rock or stump.
  • Yell “Hey Bear” loudly.
  • Get your bear spray out and hold it in your hand. Remove the safety latch.

And if a bear follows or charges at you:

  • Stand your ground and stay with others.
  • Intimidate the black bear by making yourself look bigger and making noise (wave arms, shout, clap, bang stick).
  • Prepare to fight or use bear spray.

For more information on bears and how to secure attractants in a bear-resistant way, please visit www.bearwise.org. Have you had a bear encounter in the Smokies? Do you consider yourself BearWise? If so, let us know in the comments!

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