Creature Feature: Ursula the black bear

If you are a frequent visitor to the museum or the blog, you are probably familiar with our black bears. There have been plenty of pictures, as well as some videos, that we have posted about our three youngest bears (Gus, Virginia and Mimi). The black bear exhibit also tends to be a favorite for visitors, and I often hear people speak of our three young bears by name. But when it comes to Ursula (we call her Urse), most of the time people are asking where she is or commenting that they rarely see her. I figured my creature feature would be a great way for everyone to finally meet her!

Urse was given to the museum when she was less than a year old by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS EnCon). She had been seized from her previous owner who did not have the correct permits to possess a black bear in New York. The NYS EnCon was in need of a facility that could give her a good home, and fortunately the museum was able to do so.
Much like Misha the red-tailed hawk, Urse is currently one of our longest standing residents. She was born some time in early 1991, and came to the museum in October of that same year. Although being 17 years of age might sound old for a bear, they can actually live up to 25 or 30 years in captivity! However, being older means that she’s not quite as active as the younger bears, so she spends more time sleeping at the base of the cliff (where it’s shady and cool) while the other bears are playing and swimming. She also prefers to be by herself and not hang out with the youngsters, which is normal for adult black bears.
According to Sherry and Kent, she was an energetic and mischevious adolescent, and often times would antagonize the older bears (ironically, the youngsters now do the same to her!). Although she’s too big now to climb trees, the keepers used to find her up in trees all the time, but it was apparently because she was trying to get away from the bigger bears that she had annoyed. She has always enjoyed the water, and will wade in the exhibit pools on hot days. Some of her favorite foods are apples, corn on the cob, nuts and raisins.
Urse has calmed down quite a bit in the last couple years, as she used to be a pretty aggressive bear. She used to charge the fence toward people she didn’t know, and she was certainly a concern when the keepers had to enter the yard to mow or scoop while she was in there with them. Therefore, at least two keepers were required when entering the bear yard, and one of those people had to be Sherry. Fortunately, Urse has now lost her interest in charging the fences and she is much more relaxed when the keepers are in the yard. Although we still always use two keepers, with one being Sherry, Urse is more inclined to calmly follow us around (from a safe distance) and search for the raisins that we scatter for her.
Although she does not want to interact with the other bears, she does find interest in some of the enrichment items we give her. Urse is actually the only bear that seems to use the really large plastic balls that we have (originally made for tigers), and Kent has even seen her laying on her back holding the ball in the air with her feet! However, the enrichment item that she uses the most is a red plastic barrel. Keepers have seen her on many occassions with the barrel on its side and her body draped over it while she uses her feet to push off the ground and roll back and forth!

6 responses to Creature Feature: Ursula the black bear

  1. Katy says:

    unless you have something sweet in your hands…than it is Virginia doing all the vocals!

  2. Sherry says:

    Wendy- I bet if Urs, and the other bears, did not pop the ball immediately it would be fairly quick.

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