Tourist seen hand-feeding a bear on TikTok has been charged, Tennessee officials say

Simone Jasper

A Smoky Mountains visitor seen hand-feeding a bear in a social media video has been charged, officials say.

The woman was vacationing in Gatlinburg when she was accused of giving food to a black bear last month, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said Monday on Facebook.

Video posted to the social media app TikTok appears to show the tourist putting a chocolate bar and watermelon slice near the animal’s mouth. WVLT linked to the post, which has a warning that reads: “The action in this video could result in serious injury.”

The woman in the footage, identified as 21-year-old Kristin Hailee Farris, is charged with misdemeanor “illegal black bear feeding,” officials say. She is from Danville, Virginia, according to authorities.

“The overwhelming desire to have a close encounter with a black bear is strangely more powerful than common sense,” Sgt. David Sexton of Sevier County Wildlife said in the news release. “Many people intentionally feed bears with little regard for the dire consequences to the bears and humans they leave behind.”

Officials say similar actions prompted regulations that prohibit people from attracting bears with food or trash within 6 miles of Gatlinburg, a mountain town popular with tourists.

Black bears can weigh up to 600 pounds and mainly are found along Tennessee’s borders with Kentucky and North Carolina.

When people give bears food on purpose, the animals stop being afraid of humans, according to experts. State officials say people should avoid feeding or getting close to bears, which can act in unpredictable ways.

“While black bears are usually tolerant of humans, they should always be treated as wild animals, whether in residential or backcountry areas,” the wildlife agency said on its website.

To avoid bears, experts recommend securing garbage, cleaning outdoor grills, taking down bird feeders and bringing pet food inside. If you see a bear, don’t run but rather “stand your ground, raise your arms to appear larger, yell and throw rocks or sticks until it leaves the area,” according to officials.

In North Carolina, officials earlier this month warned of a rise in bear activity as the animals prepare for hibernation. During the fall, bears’ search for food could bring them in contact with humans, McClatchy News reported.