And thus it's 'Gus' for bear at Durham museum

Staff WriterSeptember 6, 2006 

  • The Museum of Life and Science is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

    Admission is $9.50 for adults, $7.50 for children ages 3 to 12, $8.50 seniors 65 or older or active military; free for children age two and younger.

    Durham County residents can get in for free every from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays.

— Citizens of Durham, meet Gus.

Gus, 42 pounds of furry energy, is the Museum of Life and Science's newest black bear. He is a 6-month-old cub discovered earlier this year, lost and emaciated on a Virginia roadway. He weighed less than 10 pounds then, and of course, he had no name.

Soon after he arrived in Durham, museum officials set out to name him properly, offering up three possibilities and inviting the public to vote through an online contest. Of the 1,700 votes that came in, about 700 were "Gus" votes. The other finalists, "Woodrow" and "Briar," proved less popular.

So "Gus" it is. The name is a nod to Augusta County, Va., where he was found. For now, he is kept in his own animal habitat on the grounds of the museum's new "Explore the Wild" exhibit, where he grunts and sniffs and pads around in isolation. He will be introduced to the museum's three other black bears slowly. Soon, he'll meet Virginia, who at age 1-and-a-half is closest to his size. Once he grows to 100 pounds, he'll be big enough to frolic in the sprawling new bear sanctuary with Virginia; Mimi, age 3; and the old, wise Ursula, 15.

Gus has been packing on about two pounds a week eating a special blend museum officials call "bear chow."

He'll probably like the new digs. "Explore the Wild" is a permanent exhibit with separate areas featuring lemurs, wolves and the four bears. Attendance is up significantly since the exhibit opened in May, officials say -- a 12 percent increase in August from the same month in 2005 -- and the bears are a prime draw. The fenced, one-acre habitat in a former rock quarry now features long, wide walkways where visitors can amble right down next to the bears. This is a change from the previous layout, which offered only an overhead view of the animals from a distant overlook.

"When you bring animals on the same level, you can appreciate a little more their similarities and differences and see what makes them tick," said Sherry Samuels, the museum's animal department director.

Staff writer Eric Ferreri can be reached at 956-2415 or eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com.

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