Human–carnivore interactions are on the rise globally, and often take the form of damage to property and livelihoods, human injuries or fatalities, and retaliatory killing of carnivores. Potential conflict situations are rarely recognized early, and circumstances are often complicated by mismatches between people's perceptions and reality. Following media reports of sloth bear Melursus ursinus attacks on people, we evaluated the situation in a tourism-dominated town in southern Rajasthan, India. Using a spatially explicit survey design, we interviewed 241 residents of Mount Abu to record recent bear sightings and attacks, prevailing attitudes towards bears, and respondents’ understanding of bear ecology. We obtained independent secondary information on tourism levels and bear attacks to verify information received during interviews. We used recursive partitioning to identify factors that explained residents’ attitudes towards sloth bears, and multi-model inference to identify land cover and other features that influenced bear presence. Respondents perceived increasing bear presence and attacks, and secondary data supported these perceptions. Respondents’ insights regarding bear ecology, particularly bears being attracted by rubbish bins, were supported by multi-model inferences. Mount Abu's residents, especially women and younger men, had negative attitudes towards bears, independent of their education level or occupation. Our findings suggest a novel situation in Mount Abu, with sloth bears habitually accessing rubbish bins, which leads to increased bear–human interactions and negative attitudes among residents. We recommend immediate action focusing on waste management, which could help prevent an escalation of the situation and reduce attacks by bears that could otherwise lead to retaliatory killings.