American Black Bear


•Black bears are solitary and reclusive, except during the breeding season and when females are with their cubs.

•Male and female black bears without cubs are solitary wanderers.

•Black bears are crepuscular - meaning, they are active in the early morning and at dusk. Some bears are active at night in order to avoid people or other bears.

•Mid-day they commonly bed at the base of large evergreens (pines and hemlocks) where they find shade from the sun.

•Standing black bears are not preparing to charge; they are looking around and smelling whatever has peeked their curiousity.

•Charging bears remain on all fours with head down. They perform a series of mock attacks before turning and running away from the perceived threat.

•Black bears make very little noise except when threated.

•Although they exceptional climbers, these abilities tend to decline with age.

•Females are highly unlikely to attack people in defense of their cubs. Bear researchers often capture screaming cubs in the presence of otherwise blustery mothers who do not attack.

•The defense of cubs is a grizzly bear trait.


In his book, Bear Attacks (1985), biologist Steve Herrero described experiences of researchers with mother black bears and cubs:

"Researchers studying black bears confirm that black bear females are seldom aggressive, even when harassed. Al Ekickson, who made the pioneering study of black bears in North America, captured 96 bears 109 times in the late 1950's and early 1960's. He state that most female bears did not display strong maternal protective instinct and quickly abandoned cubs when danger was imminent. In only 3 of 10 cases were females detected in the vicinity of cubs he trapped. Two of those mothers attempted to drive off the handling crew by rushing forward, snorting, and rapidly chomping their teeth. At no time did they approach closer than 10 feet. A particularly aggressive charge could be terminated by loud shouting, which seemed to unnerve the animal."


•Black bears mark their territories by rubbing their bodies against trees and clawing at the bark.

•They communicate with each other through their scent.

What are their greatest perils? Orphaned cubs, poachers, access to human food and garbage, vehicular homicides, wildfires, non-native species including wild hogs, and general ignorance on the part of the public about the character and behavior of black bears.


Signs in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park


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