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RELEASE: Museum of Life and Science grieves loss of American black bear Gus

For Immediate Release – February 5, 2024

Media Contact:
Ro Rode, Director of Marketing and Communications
(561) 596-1410 |

Photos of Gus

DURHAM, NC — The Museum of Life and Science sadly announces the passing of Gus, an 18-year-old American black bear who has been part of the Museum experience and family since 2006. During an examination by veterinarians from the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, an inoperable cancerous mass was found near Gus’ heart and lungs. He was euthanized on Wednesday, January 31, 2024.

Last week, after Animal Care staff noticed a dramatic change in Gus’ behavior, veterinarians were brought to campus to sedate and perform a physical, including radiographs, blood work, and ultrasound. Given the mass’ prognosis, and Gus’ age and condition, the team made the difficult decision to euthanize him. The Animal Care staff were able to spend time with him and say goodbye.

“Gus was one of those souls that brought people (and bears) together,” Senior Director of Animal Care Sherry Samuels said. “His behavior with other bears, young and old, as well as what he did on his own, has made many of us smile, laugh, moan, roll our eyes, and just look at him in awe.”

Gus’ body and cells will be donated to a number of cancer research organizations, all with the same goal of helping to understand and treat cancer in both humans and animals.

Born in February 2006, Gus arrived at the Museum from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries as an orphaned five-month-old cub. Wildlife officials determined Gus would not be a candidate for release, they contacted the Museum, which was able to provide him with a forever home.

Often known to staff and guests as “Mama Gus,” Gus raised several of the Museum’s bears as they grew over the years. Little Bear, Murray, and the late Yona learned bear behaviors from Gus thanks to his patient nature.

“And while I sit with this huge hole, I also have immense gratitude,” Samuels said. “Gratitude for how Gus impacted so many so positively. Gratitude for the veterinary team who cared for Gus so quickly and thoughtfully in his last days and minutes. I am so appreciative that Gus will live on not just in stories told of him by people I know, but likely hundreds if not thousands of people I don’t.”

Gus is deeply missed by staff and visitors. He leaves behind Mimi, Little Bear, and Murray, the three remaining black bears at the Museum.

For more about Gus and his life at the Museum, check out this 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 Trail, Ellerbe Creek Railway, Hideaway Woods, Into the Mist, Earth 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. For more than 75 years, the Museum has upheld its ongoing commitment to the communities of Durham, the Triangle, and North Carolina. To learn more, visit