Bear who startled employee, customers at Gatlinburg theme park euthanized


GATLINBURG, Tenn. — A juvenile black bear who startled customers and swiped at a concession stand employee of an eastern Tennessee theme park has been euthanized, wildlife officials said Monday.

Officials with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said that the bear was killed, days after it entered an employee entrance at the “Bear Can” at the Anakeesta Mountaintop Adventure Park in Gatlinburg on June 20, WVLT-TV reported.

“TWRA does not enjoy having to euthanize any wildlife, especially bears and we don’t do it indiscriminately,” Dan Gibbs, the agency’s black bear coordinator, said in a statement. “We utilize what we call the “Bear Conflict Matrix,” which was developed by wildlife professionals as a guide for addressing human/bear conflict. In this incident, the bear entered a concession stand with humans present and made physical contact with an employee causing minor injuries. Unfortunately, this bear was not a candidate for relocation.”

At about 9:30 p.m. EDT on June 20, the black bear entered the concession stand, according to the television station. According to a video filmed by Zachary Recchia that went viral on TikTok, the animal was rustling through food at the counter of the “Bear Can.”

“No. No. Ain’t got nothing for you, buddy,” one person can be heard in the video.

The animal decided after a minute to leave the stand, but encountered a female employee approaching the door as it exited, according to WBIR-TV.

Both the bear and the employee were startled, and the animal lunged at the woman before scampering away, the television station reported.

The employee ran inside the concession stand and closed the door, according to WATE-TV. She was not injured and did not receive medical attention.

On Monday, wildlife officers met with the theme park officials to address temporary garbage storage and food access issues inside the park, WVLT reported.

Park officials have also bought temporary electric fencing and electrified “unwelcome mats” for use when the park is closed to guests, according to the television station.

Since the incident, officials said Anakeesta has also purchased temporary electric fencing and electrified “unwelcome mats” to be used when the park is closed to guests.

The park also ordered steel caging to keep concession stand doors secure and keep garbage away from scavenging bears, WVLT reported.

“We applaud Anakeesta for recognizing areas where they can improve on restricting bears’ access to garbage and human foods,” Joe Benedict, the TWRA’s wildlife and forestry chief, said in a statement. “We feel this synergistic approach will benefit both park guests and bears.”

Anakeesta President Bryce Bentz said he was encouraged by the changes made to bolster park safety.

“Our team is expanding our partnership with TWRA by implementing new initiatives to keep bears and people safe during their Smoky Mountain vacations,” Bentz said in a statement. “We are making improvements to our park every day with guidance from local agencies on how to stay ‘BearWise.

The park is surrounded on three sides by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Black bears are native to eastern Tennessee and there is a large population in the area, according to WBIR.

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