Polar Bears to Be Introduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2016

Close-up photo of a polar bear.
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We are excited to report that 5,000 polar bears will be introduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park beginning in 2016! The National Park Service issued a press release this morning detailing a five-year plan to transplant polar bears from the Arctic Circle to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.

The Polar Bear Relocation Project comes at a critical time for the species. Experts estimate that there are only 20,000 – 25,000 polar bears in the wild today, and population levels are continuing to decline as rising temperatures and pollution put their Arctic habitat in peril. The U.S. Geological Survey predicts that unless drastic action is taken, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be gone by the year 2050.

Polar bear crossing the road in Cades Cove.

Artist’s rendering of a polar bear in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In the National Park Service press release, wildlife biologist Dr. Gregory Goodfellow explains why the Smoky Mountains were selected as the destination for the Polar Bear Relocation Project:

“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has long been a sanctuary for endangered wildlife. We are very proud of the work done to save the northern flying squirrel and the red-cockaded woodpecker from extinction, and we are confident that the Polar Bear Relocation Project will be met with similar success.”

Dr. Goodfellow goes on to thank the Coca-Cola Company for their $20 million contribution to the project. Polar bears have been featured in a number of iconic television commercials for the popular soft drink since 1993.

Polar Bear Relocation Project Timeline and Details

In early 2016, scientists will travel to Alaska, Canada, and Greenland to capture polar bears who will be immediately airlifted to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To avoid disturbing the park’s ecosystem, the bears will be introduced slowly, with a goal of 1,000 polar bears released each year. By the end of 2020, there may be as many as 14,000 polar bears in the park.

While the Smoky Mountains are obviously a very different environment from the Arctic Circle, the area’s cool, moist climate makes it a natural fit for polar bears. The National Park Service has also reached a deal with Ober Gatlinburg to use the ski resort’s snow machines in certain sections of the park, in order to ease the polar bears’ transition to the region.

Although they typically hunt seals, polar bears are noted for their flexible diets. Experts predict that polar bears introduced in the Smoky Mountains will eat a variety of animals, including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, chipmunks, and fish.

Impact on the Black Bear Population

Gray bear cub with black bear mother.

Artist’s rendering of a gray bear cub with its black bear mother.

The introduction of polar bears into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will have a profound impact on the native American black bear population. Scientists predict that over time, the polar bears (Ursus maritimus) will start to mate with the black bears (Ursus americanus), resulting in a brand new species of bear.

Biologists are already calling the hybrid species Ursus ravus, the scientific name for “gray bear.” With the hunting instincts of a polar bear, the tree climbing ability of a black bear, and fur that will blend in with the Smoky Mountain landscape, gray bears are poised to become a “super-predator” in the region. The first generation of gray bears is expected in 2017.

Polar Bear Safety Precautions

With the introduction of polar bears into the Smoky Mountains and the likely emergence of the gray bear, the National Park Service is instituting a number of new safety measures for visitors to the park. Unlike black bears, polar bears are primarily carnivorous and have been known to occasionally stalk humans. However, with a few common-sense precautions, humans can safely coexist with polar bears.

This morning’s press release outlined some of the new guidelines:

  • Immediately after a picnic in the national park, dispose of all leftover food and garbage to avoid attracting polar bears.
  • Anyone fishing in the national park must first check the stream in question to make sure a polar bear is not lurking under the water. The official procedure for checking a stream is as follows: throw a polar bear treat (available for purchase at national park visitor centers) into the water, hide behind a bush or a tree, and wait for thirty to forty minutes. If a bear does not surface to eat the treat, it is safe to fish.
  • When driving through Cades Cove, keep car windows closed at all times. Polar bears are attracted to the smell of gasoline and may approach cars on the loop road. Be sure to drive at a steady rate, so the bears aren’t able to slash your tires with their claws.
  • If you encounter a polar bear on a hiking trail, do not make eye contact under any circumstances. The second a polar bear locks eyes with an animal it will single-mindedly pursue its prey for hundreds of miles. Anyone who accidentally makes eye contact with the bear should run away as fast as humanly possible while screaming at the top of his lungs. Don’t stop running until you are indoors, and remember to lock the door behind you.
  • Stop believing everything you read on the internet, especially on April 1st.Polar bear walking in the National Park.

That’s right, the Polar Bear Relocation Project is an April Fools’ Day joke! While there won’t be any Arctic additions to the national park, the Smokies are already home to an incredible variety of animals. Check out our blog Where and When to Spot Your Favorite Smoky Mountain Wildlife for a complete guide to wildlife viewing in the park.

 

 

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116 thoughts on “Polar Bears to Be Introduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2016

  1. SNL says:

    Love the article! Great April Fool’s Day joke. My husband and I are moving up in July this year, as we were reading the article we started to panic until the last paragraph. Well done 🙂

  2. SNL says:

    Love the article! Great April Fool’s Day joke. My husband and I are moving up in July this year, as we were reading the article we started to panic until the last paragraph. Well done 🙂

    • Jason Fishman says:

      I’m happy to hear that you liked the article! You’re not the only person who feel for it : )

    • Jason Fishman says:

      I’m happy to hear that you liked the article! You’re not the only person who feel for it : )

  3. sara barnes says:

    Just what I would want…I already have black bears in my back yard so why not a polar bear, especially one wearing a coke sign! Good April Fool’s joke!

  4. sara barnes says:

    Just what I would want…I already have black bears in my back yard so why not a polar bear, especially one wearing a coke sign! Good April Fool’s joke!

  5. Sherry says:

    After our first visit in 2013 we are planning a fall/winter trip. The entire time I am reading this I am remembering Laurel Falls and thinking how I want to take my granddaughter there!! At the same time feeling sickened by the thought of POLAR BEARS!! I know they will stalk people for days and several miles!! I’m just featuring climbing to the falls and getting nearly there and seeing a polar bear……. GREAT JOKE but so glad it is a joke!!!

  6. Sherry says:

    After our first visit in 2013 we are planning a fall/winter trip. The entire time I am reading this I am remembering Laurel Falls and thinking how I want to take my granddaughter there!! At the same time feeling sickened by the thought of POLAR BEARS!! I know they will stalk people for days and several miles!! I’m just featuring climbing to the falls and getting nearly there and seeing a polar bear……. GREAT JOKE but so glad it is a joke!!!

  7. Jason Sullivan says:

    This was a good one i was starting to get mad because i knew that the deer at cades cove were the only true native deer to tenn. As a deer hunter that really had me fired up thinking that they would do this to who ever came up with this joke that was very cruel but great joke hands down the best in a long time.

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Yes, polar bears wouldn’t mix well with the deer in Cades Cove! Thanks for commenting!

  8. Jason Sullivan says:

    This was a good one i was starting to get mad because i knew that the deer at cades cove were the only true native deer to tenn. As a deer hunter that really had me fired up thinking that they would do this to who ever came up with this joke that was very cruel but great joke hands down the best in a long time.

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Yes, polar bears wouldn’t mix well with the deer in Cades Cove! Thanks for commenting!

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Haha, you’re right – polar bears and black bears might make panda bears! Thanks for commenting!

    • James Dunn says:

      Actually they are finding that Polars and Grizzleys are occasionally mating as their territories overlap increasingly. This hybrid is real and not an April first joke.

      • Jason Fishman says:

        Yes, I’ve heard about “grolar bears”! Maybe, they’ll be coming to the Smokies too!

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Haha, you’re right – polar bears and black bears might make panda bears! Thanks for commenting!

    • James Dunn says:

      Actually they are finding that Polars and Grizzleys are occasionally mating as their territories overlap increasingly. This hybrid is real and not an April first joke.

      • Jason Fishman says:

        Yes, I’ve heard about “grolar bears”! Maybe, they’ll be coming to the Smokies too!

  9. William says:

    Hmmm I don’t know if they’ll be able to handle the heat of the summers or the thick humidity. . Coming from crisp cold. . Its hard to breathe our humid summers if your not used to it

  10. William says:

    Hmmm I don’t know if they’ll be able to handle the heat of the summers or the thick humidity. . Coming from crisp cold. . Its hard to breathe our humid summers if your not used to it

  11. rambler333 says:

    Thanks for the great article showing why people shouldn’t believe everything they read on the Internet……… or anything and everything they see and hear on network news. Some of it may accidentally be true. The majority is rubbish.

  12. Debbie Vitous says:

    Well done!! We’re here visiting from Illinois and all I could think was – glad we got this trip in before the polars came!

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Haha, yes, good timing for your vacation! I hope you’re enjoying your time in the Smokies!

  13. Debbie Vitous says:

    Well done!! We’re here visiting from Illinois and all I could think was – glad we got this trip in before the polars came!

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Haha, yes, good timing for your vacation! I hope you’re enjoying your time in the Smokies!

  14. Ronnie Tyson says:

    Stupid and unpredictable as this administration is , I didn’t fall for this story !!!

  15. Ronnie Tyson says:

    Stupid and unpredictable as this administration is , I didn’t fall for this story !!!

  16. James Dunn says:

    I think we should introduce several to the White House. I’m sure they’d find Moochelle big butt as tasty as whale blubber

  17. rambler333 says:

    New rule for hiking in the Smokies. Keep a Sausage Egg McMuffin in your backpack. If you are chased by a polar bear, take out your Egg McMuffin, stuff it in your hiking partner’s back pocket, and run as fast as you can. Well done, Jason. You must live in Gatlinburg, Sevierville, or Knoxville.

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Hahaha, I’m sure the National Park Service will be adopting your new guidelines soon! And yes, I do live in the area!

  18. rambler333 says:

    New rule for hiking in the Smokies. Keep a Sausage Egg McMuffin in your backpack. If you are chased by a polar bear, take out your Egg McMuffin, stuff it in your hiking partner’s back pocket, and run as fast as you can. Well done, Jason. You must live in Gatlinburg, Sevierville, or Knoxville.

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Hahaha, I’m sure the National Park Service will be adopting your new guidelines soon! And yes, I do live in the area!

  19. Tyler Harless says:

    For those of us in the resort business it really was useful to scare coworkers thank you very much it was GREAT

  20. Tyler Harless says:

    For those of us in the resort business it really was useful to scare coworkers thank you very much it was GREAT

  21. Ed Kaufholz says:

    And this is a good idea? I’m building a home that adjoins the park and black bears are a concern. But, polar bears? Really?

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Don’t worry Ed, this is just an April Fools’ Day blog – there aren’t any polar bears coming to the Smokies!

  22. Ed Kaufholz says:

    And this is a good idea? I’m building a home that adjoins the park and black bears are a concern. But, polar bears? Really?

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Don’t worry Ed, this is just an April Fools’ Day blog – there aren’t any polar bears coming to the Smokies!

  23. Norm Sterrett says:

    Due to the frequency of human-bear encounters in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Fish and Wildlife Branch is advising hikers, hunters, fishermen and any persons that use the out of doors in a recreational or work related function to take extra precautions while in the field.

    We advise the outdoorsman to wear little noisy bells on clothing so as to give advanced warning to any bears that might be close by so you don’t take them by surprise.

    We also advise anyone using the out-f-doors to carry “Pepper Spray” with him is case of an encounter with a bear.

    Outdoorsmen should also be on the watch for fresh bear ACTIVITY, and be able to tell the difference between black bear feces and Polar bear feces. Black bear feces is smaller and contains lots of berries and squirrel fur. Polar bear shit has bells in it and smells like pepper.

  24. Phillip Belcher says:

    I do not know why this appeared in my fb timeline this morning but it definitely broke the monotony. Thanks Jason! I heard of some talk of “Whales” at the casino in Murphy but that might be something else entirely.

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Hi Phillip. Yes, I’m not sure why our April Fool’s blog has resurfaced on social media, but I’m glad you enjoyed it! We’ll have to look into these whales!

  25. Marz M says:

    Brilliant! And great joke. My favorite part was “polar bears lurking under the water.” Thanks for a great start to April Fool’s Day.

  26. elizabethmcfarland says:

    If the powers that made this stupid decison had any sense, it would be the almost extinct red wolf they would be putting back in its NATURAL Habitat. This is so stupid, those bears are (1) way more aggressive than our black bears and look at how many of them stupid actions and stupid people get killed, (2) a polar bear has a very dense coat for ICY and much colder conditions year round than NC has and natural instinct to eat seals and fish, so where they devil do they think these bears are going to go when the temps get into the high 90s or over 100 like it has and where do they think these bears are going to get the salmon fish and the seals that are their diet. STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!!!

    • mac says:

      Elizabeth! go have another Coke This is a Great April Fools joke. (although I was a couple of paragraphs in before I realized that it was a joke and not another stupid government program.

  27. OhZone says:

    Humans are really stupid. As if we don’t have enough problems with bears they now want to add Polar Bears. A species totally unsuited to rhw environment. How many people have to be killed by these bears before they realize their mistake?

  28. Tim McDonald says:

    This is a joke right? Nobody would be stupid enough to introduce a new top tier predator into a balanced ecosystem, which also happens to be the most visited National Park in the United States?

  29. Jennifer Wheeler says:

    YOU just gave me a mini heart attack! I’m moving back home to area, I’ve been in Alaska for past 32 years lol! I went through the roof first two paragraphs!! I couldn’t read anymore and walked through my house ranting and raving until my husband who obviously is more stable than I am and who is a hunting guide finished the article. That was a good one!! Hands down, I was had! You’ve obviously been informed about our prizzly Bears lol!

  30. Ken says:

    Great news!! Can’t wait to finish the article later on the plane!! Polar bears are misunderstood animals and will easily fit in well in the southeastern U.S. They’re not as dangerous as their reputation may sound. I spent 6 weeks in the Canadian Baffin islands in the late 90s and I developed a relationship with a polar bear I named Tim. Tim and I spent many a nights up late enjoying each other’s company and hopefully Tim will be one of the polar bears relocated to NC. Also in college a shared and apartment for a semester with a black bear and a bull moose.

    B Rye

  31. Susan Ramdin (Suram8456) says:

    Haha! 2 years later it still works! You had me till the last few paragraphs! “The official procedure for checking a stream is as follows:..” So funny!

  32. steamed says:

    When I was a kid, over 50 years ago, we arrived to the campground at Smoky Mountains National Park somewhat on the late side. My dad drove around looking for a campsite pulling our popup trailer. We came to a big corner site that backed up to the woods with lots of pathes coming down. My dad was amazed that there was such a good site available so late. That night as we tried to sleep, we heard people yell things like, “look at that one. Its a big one.” Then we felt something bumping under the beds. Turned out, those path were where the bears came down from the woods to raid the garbage cans amd . My mom told my dad to stick his head out and take a look and he told her “You stick your head out.” Told this story for many years. Dad is gone, but we still have this among the many memories we have from traveling the country camping when we were kids.

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