Number of Baylor mascots draws scrutiny

Wed, Nov. 12, 2003

Fort Worth Star-Telegram


WACO, Texas - Baylor's high rate of mascot turnover has kept its live mascot program under attack from animal-rights groups and conservationists.

Including current mascots Joy and Lady, senior bear trainer Adam Ylitalo said Baylor has had more than 50 mascots in 80 years.

Asked if an official university record of every Baylor mascot through the years could be produced, Eileen Hulme, the mascot program's adviser, deferred to Ylitalo. He said the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, a student organization in charge of the bears, has no such records.

"Here Come the Bears", a 1996 book by Eugene W. Baker, details 53 Baylor mascots from 1917 to 1996 but does not specify an exact number. Counting four mascots since Baker's book came out, Baylor appears to have had 57.

Carol Asvestas of the 112-acre Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio said her facility took in a Baylor mascot, Scotty, in 1990.

"We asked them when we took it that they not take any more bears in," Asvestas said. "We were under the impression they agreed to it. They have a reputation of handing them over once they get to a certain age. It's a recycling problem."

Hulme said Baylor wants its new planned habitat to house bears for the rest of their lives, with one caveat. Baylor will continue to find new homes for adult bears that become too temperamental or dangerous.

Such was the case with Bobby, adopted by the Austin Zoo in 1996. The zoo's director, Cindy Carroccio, has been one of Baylor's harshest critics, after Bobby required $8,000 worth of dental work. She says Bobby is gentle now and was just mishandled by his Baylor trainers, which the school denies.

One animal-rights group, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, has accused Baylor of concealing the on-campus death of a 2-year-old bear, Ginny, in the late 1990s. SHARK's Web site suggests Baylor had the body secretly removed after midnight.

According to Baylor, Ginny was adopted very much alive by Bear World wildlife park in Idaho. This week, Bear World owner Mike Ferguson and U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector Earnest Johnson both verified Ginny's transport in the spring of 1999 from Baylor to Idaho, where she died of cancer not long afterward.

"She appeared to be in good health, but we noticed she was a little slow," Ferguson said. "She seemed to be an awfully young bear to die of cancer. I don't know what caused it."

SHARK has also accused Baylor of sending some bears to substandard sanctuaries or parks. Hulme said Baylor does its homework, but inspection records show that 6-year-old Bear World was not fully compliant with USDA standards until October 2001.

Bear World was cited at times for substandard shelter areas, inadequate feeding and veterinary care, exposed wiring near animals, contaminated water, incomplete records and a lack of containment between incompatible animals. Bear World has since become fully compliant.

"We don't return a bear into an untenable situation," Hulme said. "We've been portrayed as not being sensitive to these bears, and it's just not true."

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