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Museum of Life and Science saddened to announce the death of beloved black bear, Virginia

Virginia Bear


For Immediate Release – April 13, 2021 | 10:30 am

Media Contact:
Matt Pusateri, Senior Director of Marketing
202.445.3068 |



DURHAM, NC – The Museum of Life and Science is mourning the loss of Virginia, a 15-year-old black bear, who has delighted hundreds of thousands of visitors since 2005. She was humanely euthanized Monday morning.

Virginia lived with osteoarthritis and other physical deterioration for the last few years. In November, an examination at the North Carolina State University Veterinary Hospital confirmed that she had extensive orthopedic issues. She returned to the Museum, where the Animal Care team focused on palliative care to make her remaining time as comfortable and pain-free as possible. In recent weeks, however, her health deteriorated further, and the team determined that it could do nothing more to improve her welfare and quality of life.

“I literally bottle-fed this bear and watched her grow up at the Museum. She’s family,” said Sherry Samuels, Director of Animal Care for the Museum. “It’s hard losing family, even if it’s the right decision.”

Virginia came to the Museum as a cub in 2005. She had initially been found in a yard in the state of Virginia as an orphan. By the time wildlife services arrived, she was too used to people to be released into the wild. On June 2, 2005, wildlife officials from Virginia brought her to the Museum. She was only fifteen pounds at the time and delivered in a crate the same size as ones used to transport rabbits.

“We only had one other black bear here at the time. So, this little cub was the beginning of the next chapter,” Samuels said. “And oh, was she little. Holding — and bottle-feeding —a 15-pound cub was one of those ‘wow’ experiences that stays with you.”

Virginia temporarily lived inside the Museum’s indoor Carolina Wildlife exhibit. For a few months, she lived in borrowed space from the barred owl exhibit until the Museum finished its new bear habitat construction.

As an adult, Virginia grew to be more than 300 pounds. She spent hundreds of hours napping in the sunshine on the cliff face in the Explore the Wild bear habitat. For thousands of Museum visitors, a highlight of a summertime visit to the Museum was the chance to watch Virginia retrieve watermelons from the water and crack them open.

For years, the animal care staff treated her chronic physical issues with medicine, supplements, laser treatments, and even acupuncture. However, in recent months, Virginia showed difficulty moving on her own and struggled to come down from the habitat cliff without assistance.

Virginia will be missed dearly by staff and visitors. She leaves behind Mimi, Gus, and Yona, the three remaining black bears at the Museum.

For more about Virginia and her life at the Museum, check out Samuels’ beautiful tribute on the Museum blog.



About the Museum of Life and Science

Located less than five miles from downtown Durham, the Museum of Life and Science is one of North Carolina’s top family destinations. Our 84-acre campus includes a two-story science center, one of the largest butterfly conservatories on the East Coast, and beautifully landscaped outdoor exhibits. Our interactive experiences include Dinosaur TrailEllerbe Creek RailwayHideaway WoodsInto the MistEarth Moves, and Aerospace, which features one of the largest collections of Apollo-era NASA artifacts in the state. The Museum is also an AZA-accredited zoo, home to rescued black bears, lemurs, endangered red wolves, and more than 60 species of live animals. This year, the Museum will celebrate its 75th anniversary and its ongoing commitment to the communities of Durham, the Triangle, and North Carolina. To learn more, visit