A 16-year-old girl on a backpacking trip with her family was attacked in the middle of the night while sleeping in a hammock on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The girl sustained injuries, including bites to the head, but remained conscious through the ordeal and is in stable condition. The bear was shot by park rangers, with a forensic testing confirming the presence of human blood on the bear indicating they got the right one.
The bear attack occurred at 12:30 a.m. Friday at a backcountry campsite in the Cosby section of the park. The 16-year-old female from middle Tennessee was sleeping in a hammock strung between trees. All backpacks and food were properly stored on aerial food storage cables.
The other four family members sleeping nearby awoke to the sounds of the girl being attacked and were able to fight the bear off and call out for help.
Park rangers set out immediately, and despite the campsite being 6 miles in from the closest trailhead, the bear was still loitering about the area when they arrived — in spite of the family’s attempts to scare it from the site.
The large, male bear even entered the campsite while the rangers were present. Such behavior is typical of a bear that has locked on to a target as prey, leading the park rangers to shoot the bear.
In the meantime, park rangers provided on-site medical care to the girl overnight and she was transported to the University of Tennessee Medical Center by the Tennessee Army National Guard come morning.
The campsite will remain closed until further notice.
While it’s rare for a bear to attack a human unprovoked, it does happen.
A bear attacked a teenager while sleeping in a hammock in the Swain County area of the Smokies a few years ago. That teen also escaped death thanks to his father fighting the bear off, but it, too, continued circling the campsite for hours.
A man solo backpacking in the same Swain County area of the park last summer wasn't so lucky. He was found dead by hikers with a bear scavenging on his body, although an autopsy confirming whether the bear attack was the underlying cause of death is still pending.
If attacked by a black bear, fight back with any object available and remember that the bear may view you as prey.
“While serious incidents with bears are rare, we remind visitors to remain vigilant while in the backcountry and to follow all precautions while hiking in bear country,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “The safety of visitors is our number one priority.”
Hikers are reminded to take necessary precautions while in bear country including hiking in groups of three or more, carrying bear spray, complying with all backcountry closures, properly following food storage regulations, and remaining at a safe viewing distance from bears at all times.