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With gratitude for a life well lived

With incredible sadness, we say goodbye to a cherished member of our Museum family, Gus, the magnificent 18-year-old American black bear. Gus graced our lives with his presence at the Museum of Life and Science and became an enduring symbol of kindness, compassion, and wonder for visitors of all ages.

Last week, after Animal Care staff noticed a dramatic change in Gus’ behavior, veterinarians from the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine were on campus to sedate and perform a physical, including radiographs, blood work, and ultrasound. The results were not good; an inoperable mass was found in his chest near the heart and lungs. Given the prognosis and his age, 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 never alone, he had people who loved him close by as the responsible and heartbreaking choice was made to let him go.

Gus’ journey to the Museum began as a young cub, when he was found orphaned by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in the spring of 2006. Wildlife officials determined Gus would not be a candidate for release, they contacted the Museum, and we were able to provide him with a forever home. Over the years, he grew into an ambassador for his species. With his sleek black coat, easily recognizable blonde muzzle, oversized ears, and soulful eyes, Gus captivated the hearts of everyone who had the privilege of meeting him. Gus was affectionately referred to as “Mama Gus” as he raised several cubs over the years. He was playful and patient with each of the cubs as he taught them how to be bears. He could be seen laying on his back, all four feet in the air, while first Yona and later Little and Murray leapt onto his stomach and playfully boxed his face. While not a swimmer, Gus was quite skilled at standing on the edge of the pools waiting for watermelons to float to the edge, where he delicately plucked them from the water and devoured them in the sunshine.

“Gus was one of those souls that brought people (and bears) together,” Senior Director of Animal Care Sherry Samuels shared. “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. The repeated stories have allowed those who cared for him, visited our bear habitat, or read about him online, to forge a relationship. He brought connections. He touched so many hearts”.

“And while I sit with this huge hole, I also have immense gratitude. 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. Gratitude for how people are pulling together rather than apart at this very difficult time. 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. I also know that Gus will help other bears, other animals, and veterinarians care for critters in the future. His cells are being shared with four different cancer research facilities and will help scientists understand and treat cancer in humans and animals. Even in his death, he continues to help others do better. How can I not be thankful for that.”

When an animal dies it is not one singular moment in time, grief comes in waves and is a reminder of the love you shared. Our staff continues to keep a close eye on Mimi, Little, and Murray. For now, we hold onto the good memories, take care of those left behind, and cherish the fact that we were lucky enough to know Gus.