ORANGE — There will be no Jacuzzi in Samson's new digs at the Orange County Zoo.
When the 600-pound bear wants to take a bath, he'll have to settle for a 16-foot, unheated pool. And instead of having the run of neighborhood avocado trees, the internationally known "hot tub" black bear from Monrovia will eat dry kibble from a zookeeper's pail.
In return for the hospitality of a soon-to-be-constructed 2,800-square-foot pen that Samson will occupy as early as June, the celebrity bear is likely to bestow a new level of visibility on Orange County's little-known zoo, which will nearly triple its size as it accommodates him.
"He will put the zoo on the map," said Jeff Weir, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game, which is holding the bear in Sacramento. "He will give it a separate identity."
"It's going to increase attendance," said Orange County Zoo curator Forrest DeSpain, who now spends much of his time making public speeches about the bear and has been contacted by media in Britain, Australia and Germany.
Samson's saga began last summer when the California black bear was videotaped lounging in the spas and swimming pools of Monrovia, which abuts the San Gabriel Mountains. Experts suggested the bear had emerged from the woods to pick the fruit from residents' avocado trees. And once the bear had sampled civilization, he probably would keep returning, Weir said.
The videotape made news across the country, sparking a weeks-long search for the bear that ended in his capture by the Fish and Game department in September. For a while it appeared that Samson would be killed.
But after an outpouring of public sentiment from across the state, Gov. Pete Wilson intervened to offer a reprieve. Samson was taken to a holding facility near Sacramento, where he now resides. And the tiny Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park began lobbying to give him a home.
"I was watching TV with my family when the news came on about Samson," said DeSpain, whose wife grew up in the same Monrovia neighborhood where the bear suddenly appeared. "The next morning, I called Fish and Game."
The zoo had been discussing a major expansion for some time. Why not, DeSpain suggested, make the bear exhibit its centerpiece?
Plans call for the facility to expand from three acres to eight, including Samson's large outdoor pen, which features a swimming pool and waterfall.
The cost of the whole expansion, DeSpain said, is about $120,000, most of which has been raised from corporate and individual donors.
"Most people in Southern California already knew about Samson and were aware of his need," DeSpain said of the dozens of companies and individuals who have contributed money, goods and services.
To raise the remaining $11,000 needed to bring the bear south, the Orange County Zoological Society is spearheading a fund-raising effort. In addition to the sale of Samson postcards, posters and teddy bears, the organization is enlisting the aid of civic groups and schoolchildren in Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley in raising money.
"Most people have absolutely fallen in love with this animal," said Bob Everakes, the society's president.
Robert Nafie, headmaster of the Clairbourn School in San Gabriel, which has raised $4,500 for Samson, said students strongly identify with the bear.
"It's touched something in all of them," he said. "Here was this bear reaching out, obviously in need, who was not afraid to make contact. In lots of ways, that rings a bell with young people who often must reach out to their parents."
Toma Talamantes, the librarian at Handy Elementary School in Orange, where students have written books, attended assemblies and exhibited art work inspired by Samson, sees an important lesson in all the hoopla.
"I think it's important for people to understand that wildlife is being encroached upon," she said. "We can all identify with Samson. His home is disappearing and all he wants to do is dunk in the pool and eat avocados."
From all accounts, the black bear will be able to do plenty of dunking in Orange County, although for the time being, DeSpain said, it will have to be done in cold water.
"We're not giving him a Jacuzzi," he said. "Most of them are made of fiberglass today and that wouldn't hold up for a minute under a 600-pound bear."