Knoxville — Investigations are ongoing in the May 21 death of a woman apparently killed by black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A University of Tennessee wildlife professor said the case is so unusual that experts have yet to come up with any satisfactory explanations.
Dr. Joe Clark said the two bears, a female and her cub, attacked as predators and not in a defensive manner. Such an attack is rare, Clark said.
“Apparently the attack was not provoked,” said Dr. Joe Clark. “Such attacks by black bears are very rare but they have been known to occur, mostly by male bears.”
The body of 50-year-old school teacher Glenda Ann Bradley was found by her ex-husband. Park Service rangers attempted to drive off the bears, but eventually shot and killed them when they would not leave the body.
Clark said the black bears’ behavior seems more like that expected of more aggressive kinds of bears, like grizzlies.
“Since they’re bigger and more powerful, encountering a grizzly can result in a fatality,” Clark said. “With black bears, that’s usually not the case. Usually it’s more cuts and scrapes.”
A third bear may have been involved in the attack, and rangers are searching for it.
Clark said hikers and campers should avoid bears if possible, but in case of attack it may be better to make lots of noise and try to fight the bear off.
“Most of the time, you never see the bear because it’s run off,” Clark said. “But if you’re attacked, you’re better off fighting because the bear can be discouraged.”
Clark estimated the black bear population in North America is between 500,000 and 700,000.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 1,800 bears over 800 square miles.