Explore the Wild | American black bears

Four American black bears live in our Explore the Wild exhibit. Their enclosure is a natural setting, with a waterfall, rock formations, and deadfall trees for climbing. Visitors have the chance to get an up-close look using our remote-controlled zoom cameras.


Fast Facts


North Carolina Habitat and Range

Large expanses of uninhabited woods or swamp in the mountains and along the coast (too many people live in the Piedmont for bears to live here, but they do occasionally pass through this region).


5-6 feet long and 2-3 feet tall on all fours; males weigh 150-590 pounds, females weigh 100-350 pounds


Typically 4 to 5 years; bears in captivity usually live to late teens to as much as 30 years


“We are very excited about this habitat,” says Sherry Samuels, Museum Animal Director. “The bears will have the opportunity to exhibit their natural behaviors, from wading in a stream to digging through rocks or dirt and climbing trees. It’s hard to find an environment like this in zoos and other captive settings.”

Meet Our Bears

As cubs, the black bears that live at the Museum had too much interaction with people to be returned to the wild. A friendly cub grows up to be a dangerous bear!

Mimi was born in 2004. Mimi was confiscated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Alabama, and transferred to Appalachian Bear Rescue. Too friendly to be rehabilitated and re-released into the wild, Mimi found a home at the Museum on April 10, 2006.

Virginia was born in 2005 and was orphaned as a cub. A person started feeding her, so Virginia Wildlife officials determined she couldn’t be released into the wild. She would have been euthanized if the Museum hadn’t offered a home. She arrived here on June 2, 2005.

Gus was born in 2006. After fishermen found him on a trail at Briery Branch Lake, Virginia Wildlife officials determined he was not a good candidate for release. Gus arrived here on July 12, 2006.

Yona was born in 2009. She came from the Appalachian Bear Rescue (a place that rehabs and releases bears). At ABR, she never weaned correctly and was very interested in being around people. When the time came to release her, ABR determined she wouldn't be able to live well in the wild. Yona arrived at the Museum on January 15, 2010 and is now the youngest and smallest bear here. 

Bear-keeping at the Museum

bear cub sleeping with a teddy bear Each year, the bears are fed about 3,500 pounds of bear chow, about 1,000 pounds of nuts, and over 2,500 pounds of produce or dried fruit — plus they dig up bugs and eat grass and other plants in their yard. They eat a lot of that food in late summer and fall. In winter they become sluggish and sometimes sleep for several days, but it doesn’t get cold enough here for them to hibernate. In February they start to get more active.

“I like giving our bears logs with holes drilled in them that we stuff with treats (like peanut butter, dried fruit and mealworms),” says one keeper. “They lick, paw, claw and tear at the logs to get the treats. Once the treats are gone, they play with the logs. Since the point of enrichment is to encourage animals to express natural behaviors and keep them mentally and physically stimulated, this activity really lives up to its purpose.”