York's celebrity bear finding her fur in new Colorado home

Liz Evans Scolforo

Editor's note: This story originally ran in The York Dispatch on Aug. 4, 2015:

KEENESBURG, Colo. — Ricki, like many residents of The Wild Animal Sanctuary, has been taking to her den during the day to avoid the oppressive July heat. But she ventured out on a recent late afternoon, scrutinizing a visitor and socializing with three other bears.

The former Jim Mack's Ice Cream mascot spent about 16 years inside a 250-square-foot enclosure made up of chain-link fencing on a concrete pad, with an attached shed-type building for a den.

Ricki, the 19-year-old black bear who spent about 16 years as the mascot for Jim Mack's Ice Cream in Hellam Twp., is still exploring her new 15-acre home at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. Black bears shed their old coats and grow new ones once a year, usually in mid-summer to early fall, according to sanctuary Executive Director Pat Craig, who said Ricki's new coat is in the process of growing in.
(Photo by Liz Evans Scolforo)

Now she has 15 acres to roam inside the 720-acre sanctuary, and when the sun sets she hears the roars of lions, the chirps of cougars and vocalizations of her fellow bears.

'The beautiful side': Tawny Craig, one of the sanctuary's animal-care specialists and Executive Director Pat Craig's daughter-in-law, helped transport Ricki from Jim Mack's to the sanctuary.

She said the fur was worn off Ricki's rump back in February but has grown in again. In fact,Ricki's thick new coat is in the process of growing in.

Watching Ricki transition from an "overwhelmed" roadside attraction to a calm, confident bear is what Tawny Craig calls "the beautiful side" of animal rescue.

And Ricki doesn't lack confidence. In late July, while being visited by a York Dispatch reporter, she felt sure enough of herself to growl at Jesse, one of her enclosure-mates, when he wandered too close. Her vocalization seemed to settle the difference; afterward, the two interacted companionably.

Ricki didn't really hibernate after being brought to the sanctuary, Pat Craig said, although she slept on and off. Black bears don't go into true states of hibernation like grizzly bears do, he said.

Ricki explores her 15-acre habitat, which she shares with several other black bears.
(Photo by Liz Evans Scolforo)

Bear bonding: During those first couple of months, Josie, another black bear in the enclosure, regularly approached Ricki, who initially was held in a small "introduction pen" inside her 15-acre habitat. Josie was trying to greet her newest habitat-mate, according to Craig.

"The first thing Ricki did when she got out (of her introduction pen) was sit down next to Josie," he said. "I think she likes Josie."

It was a brief meeting, but the start of a bond or friendship that Craig expects will evolve as the bears spend more time together.

A sense of purpose: Bears have personality, perhaps more so than other sanctuary residents, according to Craig. Some are incredibly playful and gregarious, others are more reserved.

"Every animal is so different," he said. "You've got to get to know every one of them personally."

But they are the same in one respect, Craig said:

"You have to make sure they feel like they have a life — a sense of purpose."

For more information or to make a donation, visit

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo atlevans@yorkdispatch.comor on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.