A black bear that got stuck in a hot car in Sevierville, Tennessee, has died from heatstroke, wildlife officials say.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) said the bear entered the parked car outside a rental cabin, using its teeth or paws to open the door. The door then shut behind it, leaving the bear stuck inside the vehicle.
With temperatures outside being nearly 95 degrees that day, the TWRA estimates that the vehicle’s interior could have reached over 140 degrees. The owner of the car came back at around 6:45 pm local time and discovered the bear had died.
Tennessee is currently in the clutches of a heatwave. Temperatures in Sevierville are currently hovering around the 90 degree mark and are expected to climb over the next 10 days.
Bears and other furry mammals cannot sweat like humans do, so they are less able to regulate their body temperature when it gets too hot, eventually leading to organ failure and death.
Wildlife officials say that the bear was likely looking for food in the car when it got trapped.
“Notice the empty soda can and food package on the floorboard,” the TWRA wrote in a Facebook post. “Bears have noses seven times better than a bloodhound and can smell even the faintest odor of food inside a vehicle. Lock your doors, roll up your windows, and never leave food or anything that smells like food inside!”
Even things that you might not think would attract a bear can lead them to investigate.
“Empty food containers, candy wrappers, fast food bags, and even air fresheners can attract bears. Please be #BearWise and help us keep bears wild and alive,” the TWRA said.
Photos of the car afterwards show signs of the bear having torn at the interior trying to escape.
Sevierville is just north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which houses an estimated 1,500 bears. Bears that are near human settlements are drawn towards the smell of food and food waste in trash, houses and vehicles, especially during periods of the year when their natural diet of berries are not yet available, ie in late May and June.
If bears get used to eating leftover human food, or can easily access human garbage, they may lose their instinctive fear of humans, and eventually become less fearful of approaching people and human settlements, like campsites.
They may even teach other bears these behaviors, which are dangerous not only to humans and property, but the bears themselves. Bears that lose their fear of people are thought to have shorter lifespans than bears who avoid human areas, mostly due to the dangers of cars hitting them, and poaching, and freak accidents like this bear.
Bear canisters are available to buy to store food while camping on a trail, and at campsites, there are usually bear proof dumpsters present at campgrounds and picnic areas to allow people to dispose of their waste without endangering themselves or the bears living nearby.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service advises visitors to dispose of all garbage or food scraps in bear proof garbage containers or to take it home. They also urge visitors to never feed a wild animal, and to use the food storage cables to store your food and garbage when camping.