Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Michael R. Pelton, Gordon M. Burghardt

Committee Members

Edward E. C. Clebsch, Cheryl B. Travis


A study of panhandling black bears (Ursus americanus), conducted in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from 1976 through 1978, focused on establishing an ecological and behavioral profile of this segment of the population. Procedures included various photographic and written records.

The panhandling contingent showed a preponderance of older females and younger males. Of 392 panhandling sessions on 33 different bears, 43.9% involved aggression. Seven types of aggression were recorded and assigned numeric values based upon apparent severity. Blow vocalization and charge were the most likely to occur. Similarly, crowding by visitors was the most frequent precipitator of ursid aggression. Actual physical contact occurred in only 37 of the 624 aggressive acts recorded. The outcome of these interspecific interactions was dependent upon frequency of panhandling and individual differences among bears.

Multiple regression analyses of setting factors and visitor acts showed that duration of the session, number of feeding incidents, and visitor acts that resulted in invasion of the bear's individual space were the best predictors of ursid aggression. Furthermore, the level of aggression provided higher predictability than the mere number of aggressive acts.

An examination of panhandling strategies uutilizing Judgment Analysis showed that family units had the most similar strategies and that members of the same sex tended to cluster together.

Feeding was the most common behavior exhibited by visitors. Sequential analysis of events surrounding aggressive acts revealed that total visitor actions peaked immediately preceding aggression and that afterward there was a decrease in interactional behaviors for both species.

Film analysis of 43 aggressive acts showed that the elements in the aggressive repertoire of black bears were not extensive but that there was much variation in the topography of different types of aggression.

Panhandling black bears were atypical of the species in food habits and activity patterns. Weight comparisons by sex-age class showed that panhandling bears were significantly heavier, possibly because unnatural foods supplemented the natural diet. The activity patterns of panhandlers were more diurnal than those of their backcountry counterparts, indicating a change in their normally crepuscular pattern.

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