Maryville College professor explains why bear sightings are on the rise

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MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- More and more bear sightings have been making local headlines lately. What's causing the bears to come to people?

Maryville College professor, Dr. David Unger started studying black bears in 2001 and he says there's a reason East Tennesseans are seeing more bears than usual.

“If there's a female cub born that female cub stays with mom but when a male cub is born it gets pushed out by the older males,” says Unger.

Most of the bears in the suburbs are young males looking for territory, but that's not all.

“Last year there was what's called a mast failure. There was a freeze that caused much less food to be dropped from oak trees and so there's a chance that continued on into this year.”

Hungry, bold and perhaps even desperate for food but whatever you do, don't ever try to feed one.

Unger says, “The real problem comes when people cross the line and feed these animals because then they become human habituated.”

He adds they're intelligent, amazingly versatile, and known to travel – but you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightening twice before getting attacked by one.

“If a black bear approaches you, you need to make yourself bigger and bolder and badder than the black bear so you stand up big and tall, maybe grab branches and hold them up and yell like fire and stomp your feet and make yourself aggressive.”

He also says you should never play dead with a black bear.

"I think we need to celebrate the fact that we're in an area that has a large, beautiful mammal like the black bear,” says Unger.

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