The black bear (Ursus Americanus) has been studied extensively in the National Park and much has been learned about its habits and life cycle. There are estimated to be over 1,500 bears sheltering in the heavily forested habitat of the park.
The black bear’s fur can actually be varying shades of light to dark brown, with males being much larger than females. Although the black bear is smaller than its cousins - grizzly, big brown (or Kodiak), and polar - they can still weigh up to four hundred pounds and stand six feet tall.
Autumn, when bears forage for acorns, berries, seeds, insects, and nuts, is the most important time in a bear’s life. They need to gain 3-5 pounds per day to build up enough fat to see them through the winter and spring. In October or November, bears go into a deep sleep but do not become totally dormant. In January or February, females give birth to usually 1-2 cubs.
Because food is so important to them, bears are great scavengers. The black bear is a wild and highly intelligent animal and, while not usually aggressive, can be dangerous if cornered. Therefore, feeding bears or leaving food unattended is a crime. Visitors must properly pack all food and dispose of scraps. Please do your part to protect these magnificent forest dwellers.
Elk: The Largest Animal in the Park
The stately elk with its massive antlers was reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001. Elk used to roam throughout much of the eastern United States before they were hunted to depletion about 200 years ago.
The park’s elk herd has grown slowly but steadily from 52 to about 200. The bull elk and elk cows have produced numerous healthy calves, as they found the woods and meadows of the Great Smoky Mountains to be an environmentally fit new home. The herd’s future will depend, though, on continued favorable birth and survival rates.
The best place to view the elk is in the historical valley of Cataloochee. The bull elk can reach an impressive 700 pounds, and their bugling mating call, heard in the fall, is an electrifying sound never to be forgotten.