At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bear 609 traveled 1,000 miles back home after being relocated. On June 2nd, the female black bear was trapped after numerous people complained about her. For years she has been stealing food and items from bystanders, including a backpack from a fisherman. After trapping and tagging her with a GPS collar, she was released four states over, in South Cherokee National Forest in Polk County.
After releasing her from the cage, bear 609 traveled 1,000 miles back to Tennessee. The bear came to the same campground where she was captured. She did not stay in the area, but kept on trekking. According to the wildlife biologist who tracked her, Bill Stiver, “She never slowed down. She just kept on going.” Later, Bear 609 was seen at a mall and hit by a car in Alpharetta, Georgia. She was able to continue with her journey and was seen in South Carolina.
A bear traveling 1,000 miles and crossing over four states is not something you hear about daily. This young female bear showed determination and strength. It also has taught Bill Stiver never to underestimate a bear’s capability. Before bear 609, the most miles a bear traveled was 215.
Great Smoky Mountain Relocation Study
Bear 609 is part of an ongoing study to determine what happens to relocated bears. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park used to believe that a small portion of the bears would get hit by cars or get hunted, and the remaining come back. Stiver said, “74% we weren’t sure what happened to them.” This study has been ongoing for 40 years, and they have one more year to complete their research. According to the wildlife biologist, “two-thirds of the bears that were moving are dead in about four months.”
The Great Smoky Mountains would like to avoid having to relocate bears and want visitors to help. You can help by never leaving food unattended and being “BearWise.” Some ways to stay BearWise include:
- Never approach a bear
- Stay together
- Leaving no trash or food scraps
- Keep dogs on leashes
- Camp away from natural food sources
- Have bear spray on hand
Bear 609 traveled 1,000 miles to her favorite picnic spot, but she shouldn’t have had to.