Residents of Gatlinburg, Tenn., received a big shock this past weekend when they encountered an escaped black bear prowling the sidewalks of Main Street. But perhaps what was most startling about the bear’s visit wasn’t its presence in town, but its surprising attention to traffic patterns.
According to an NBC affiliate in Portland, the black bear managed to escape from a national park before wandering into downtown Gatlinburg.
In a grainy cellphone video captured by passerby Tricia Alexander, the lost bear attempted to enter the Gatlinburg Convention Center, before retreating down its steps and taking to Main Street. It then weaved in and out of the right lane of traffic, veered onto the sidewalk, and then politely entered the pedestrian crosswalk.
"You could just see people standing there saying "Oh my God! A bear!" Alexander said of the bear’s trek through the city. "A lot of people didn't see him coming and he just ran right by them and they're like ‘wow!’ It was unreal!”
The bear eventually managed to cross the street before the light turned green, and escaped into an alley on the opposite side of the street, where pedestrians continued to gawk from a safe distance. But Alexander’s husband, Robby, said that the despite the comedy of the situation, he sensed the animal’s fearfulness.
“He just looked trapped, and he mainly was just trying to get away from everybody,” Alexander said. “And he didn’t know which way to turn.”
In an interview with the Mountain Press, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency spokesman Scott Reasor said that he’d watched the viral video and hoped people would recognize the danger of gathering around a wild animal like a bear in such a situation.
“We advise people when they see a bear, even when it is in town like that, to stand back and let it have its breathing room. It’s more than likely looking for an exit like that one was,” Reasor said.
Reasor told the publication that he immediately reached out to the Gatlinburg Police Department after coming across the video, but that by the time police arrived, the animal, which he said was likely not much more than a year old, had already disappeared.
“It was able to find an area that was more suitable bear habitat than the convention center. I’m assuming it got its fill of Gatlinburg and took off,” he said. “It looked like it had been properly weaned and was trying to figure things out on where to go. More than likely it had found some dumpsters open and was exploring and looking for more free food.”
Reasor also said that he hoped the encounter would encourage residents and business owners to be mindful of where they store their garbage, and to keep it out of reach of wild animals. “They are definitely looking for natural food, and when they can’t find natural food they will start looking for what we leave out,” he said.