Food scarcity, human carelessness drawing bears into cities like Chattanooga

A mother black bear and four cubs May 26, 2000 near Gatlinburg, Tenn. (Michael Patrick/News-Sentinel)

Black bears this fall are power-eating for winter, and a lack of natural food in their usual habitats could have some of the animals ranging far and wide in search of enough calories to pack on the weight they need to survive cold weather.

This is called the time of "hyperphagia" for black bears, meaning they feel a need to eat continuously, sometimes feeding 24 hours a day, wildlife officials and experts say. That feeding prepares them for the metabolic slowdown known in black bears as "torpor," a state of dormancy.

But habituation to human food probably helped drive a male black bear with an ear tag into downtown Chattanooga last weekend, only to be shot dead later that same day by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency out of concern for public safety.