Rescuers say mascots deserve to live in nature
November 15, 2003
The San Antonio Express
BOERNE — Scotty used to thrill Baylor University football fans and youth groups, riding a bicycle or downing cookies and soda. Now he's just "the male black bear," said Lynn Cuny, executive director of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.
In 1991, when the bear was 18 months old and more unruly, Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife officials asked the nonprofit sanctuary to take him.
When the former mascot arrived at Wildlife Rescue, he had no serious injuries, but he cowered frequently, said Tim Ajax, the sanctuary's director of animal care.
The American black bear, which weighs roughly 450 pounds, soon will move to larger environs about 20 miles northeast of here in Kendalia. Wildlife Rescue hopes to have him and two female companions, once part of roadside zoo displays, in new digs by late December.
The facility allows minimal contact between its staff and the bears, and it is closed to the public.
"Animals are simply not here to entertain us," Cuny said. "This is something our institutes of higher learning should be able to understand."
Baylor, which recently limited use of its bears at football games, has acknowledged problems with its mascot program and has vowed to improve life for bears on the Waco campus.
The university plans to raise $800,000 to add grass, trees and space to its 27-year-old concrete bear pit. The design is nearly complete.
"The timeline depends on the fund raising," Baylor spokesman Larry Brumley said. "In the 1970s, we built a new bear facility that then was state of the art. But there's been recognition for several years that we needed to upgrade that facility."
Baylor now has two adult females, and it will not acquire any more bears until the project is built, Brumley said. The university had its first appearance of a live bear this season at the Nov. 8 homecoming game against Texas Tech.
"It would not be correct to say there never again will be a bear at any games," Brumley said.
Activists with Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, have accused Baylor of keeping its bears in a poorly kept pit with a dangerous drop-off. The group says having the bears at games severely stresses them, causing them to pace.
Brumley said the bears get quality care from a student fraternity under the direction of Texas A&M veterinarians and a California trainer, and under state wildlife and U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations.
In recent years, students stopped giving them sweets and sodas, and they ended a yearly event near the bear pit that featured skits and music.
At Wildlife Rescue, the bear still is prone to boredom, but he has balls and boxes to entertain him, along with perfumed hay bales to tear into and trees to snap with his powerful body.
He eats 10-15 pounds a day of fruits, meat, fish, vegetables and an occasional nutritious treat.
The bear and his penmates will have about three times as much space when they move to a 1.5-acre area encircled by an electric fence.
The bears can't return to the wild, experts say, because their exposure to humans makes them easy prey for hunters, and a perceived threat to anyone else.
As the male bear sits quietly, one of the females sniffs through the enclosure. Ajax advises against reaching to pet her.
"She doesn't need us in that sense," he said. "It's not their nature, instinctively, to be buddy-buddy with people."
Animal advocates would rather see Baylor follow the example set by the University of Houston, which in 1989 shut down a campus display of a live cougar mascot.