American Black Bears


Two New Cubs are welcomed to Ober Gatlinburg IN 2012!

Bear Cub 

Ober Gatlinburg’s Wildlife Encounter is proud to announce the birth of 2 black bear cubs, born January 31, 2012 to Minnie and BJ.  The female, Holly, and her brother, Chief, made their public debut on Wednesday, May 9th. Come see the frisky cubs at play.


Ursus Americanus

American Black Bear

Black bears are usually black in color, particularly in eastern North America. They usually have a tan muzzle which contrasts with their darker fur and may sometimes have a white chest spot. Western populations are usually lighter in color, being more often brown, cinnamon, or blonde. Some populations in coastal British Columbia and Alaska are creamy white or bluish gray and are known as "Spirit Bears" by native Americans.

 Male black bears are able to reproduce at 3 ½ - 5 years of age.

Female black bears reach reproductive age at 2 ½ - 3 ½  years of age, and can produce a litter of cubs every second year. 

Black bears can live to 25 years in the wild but most often live for only about 10 years. This is primarily due to encounters with humans. More than 90% of black bear deaths after the age of 18 months are the result of gunshots, trapping, motor vehicle accidents, or other interactions with humans.

Mother black bears are notoriously protective of their cubs, who stay with their mothers for about two years.

Mother and Cub


Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the few places remaining in the eastern United   States where black bears can live in wild, natural surroundings. For many, this famous Smokies’ resident is a symbol of wilderness.

Bears inhabit all elevations of the park. Though populations are variable, counts conducted in 2006 indicated approximately 1,500 bears live in the park. This equals a population density of approximately two bears per square mile. At one time, the black bear’s range included most of North America except the extreme west coast. Because of the loss of habitat, the black bear is now confined to wooded areas or dense brushland.

Solitary animals, black bears roam large territories, though this does not protect them from other bears. Males might wander a 15- to 80-square-mile (39- to 207-square-kilometer) home range.

Food Habits

Throughout their range in North America, black bears consume primarily grasses and forbs in spring, soft mast in the form of shrub and tree-borne fruits in summer, and a mixture of hard and soft mast in fall. However, the availability of different food types varies regionally. Only a small portion of a bear's  diet consists of animal matter, and then primarily in the form of colonial insects and beetles. Most vertebrates are consumed in the form of carrion. Black bears are not active predators and feed on vertebrates only if the opportunity exists.


When winter arrives, black bears spend the season dormant in their dens, feeding on body fat they have built up by eating ravenously all summer and fall. They make their dens in caves, burrows, brush piles, or other sheltered spots—sometimes even in tree holes high above the ground. Black bears are not true hibernators but during their winter dormant period generally they do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate, but may wake up if disturbed.

Please Don't Feed the Bears!

Black bears are very opportunistic eaters. Most of their diet consists of grasses, roots, berries, and insects. They will also eat fish and mammals—including carrion—and easily develop a taste for human foods and garbage. Bears who become habituated to human food at campsites, cabins, or rural homes can become dangerous and are often killed—thus the frequent reminder:
Garbage Kills Bears !

Communication and Perception

Black bears communicate with body and facial expressions, sounds, touch, and through scent marking. Scent marks advertise territory boundaries to other bears. Several sounds are used  by bears to warn intruders; including jaw popping, blowing or snorting. Often these warning sounds will be combined with swatting at the ground or a "bluff" charge. Black bears have a keen sense of smell.

Communicates with:
Visual, tactile, acoustic and chemical.
Sounds: blowing, snorting, jaw popping.

Perception channels:
Visual, tactile, acoustic and chemical.
Visual examples: swatting the ground, bluff charging.