• Approximately 1,500 black bears live in the national park.

    Great Smoky Mountains

    National Park NC,TN

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  • Trail Advisory

    Several trails in the park are temporarily closed. Please check the "Backcountry Facilities" section of the Temporary Road and Facilities Closures page for further details. More »

Managing zoonotic diseases

Diseases that wildlife can spread to people, either directly with an animal bite or indirectly through a vector such as a tick or flea, pose management challenges for wildlife staff. They always use personal protective equipment—gloves, goggles, and masks, if necessary—to prevent transmission of these diseases, which can include:

  • Anthrax – is more common in grazing animals than humans. Scientists think animals inhale or injest the spores.
  • Hantavirus – spreads from dried, infected mouse urine, usually in buildings.
  • Rabies – spreads from an infected animal to a human when it bites a person. This is rare in the Smokies.
  • Tick-borne diseases can spread from animals to people, and include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (the most common tick-borne illness in the southeast U.S., from Arkansas to the Atlantic coast), Lyme Disease (rarely), and other sicknesses.
  • Toxoplasmosis – also called Cat Scratch Disease, this spreads from infected meat or feces of cats (and some other mammals) to other animals or people. This is primarily a concern with pet cats.
  • West Nile virus – is spread through a mosquito from infected birds, squirrels, or other small animals.

Keep in mind that most of these diseases are not common in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it is still wise to check yourself for ticks after visiting (or visiting any forested or grassy area). It is also unwise—and illegal—to willfully approach wildlife, because you put the animals and yourself at risk.

Read about current research on zoonotic diseases in the Park.

Return to Meet the Managers: Wildlife.


Did You Know?

An experimental program to reintroduce elk to the park was begun in 2001.

An experimental program to reintroduce elk to the park was begun in 2001. Elk once roamed the Smokies, but were eliminated from the region in the mid 1800s by over-hunting and loss of habitat. Other animals successfully reintroduced to the park include river otters and barn owls. More...