Where's the Bear?

Sept. 20, 2003


Explanation of why Baylor's live mascots no longer attend football games.

WACO, Texas - Last year, members of SHARK, an Illinois-based animal rights group launched an international campaign to protest Baylor's practice of keeping live bears as mascots. The University received thousands of letters, e-mails and phone calls from people around the world, and the group made several trips to campus to protest and to hold news conferences calling for Baylor to end its live mascot program. Very few of these protests came from Baylor alumni, parents or students. After dealing with the barrage for several months, the University reaffirmed its commitment to its live mascot program because the administration believes the overwhelming majority of Baylor's constituents want to continue the tradition of housing live bears on campus.

Modifications are being made to the program, however, to ensure that the bears are shielded from extremists and are benefiting from an appropriate environment that protects their well-being.

This fall, the Chamber of Commerce's bear mascot program moved under the direction of Dr. Eileen Hulme, vice president for student life, who is working with the group to enhance the bears' overall quality of life. One policy change is to not take a bear to all home football games, where they often face thousands of screaming fans. The Texas A&M veterinarians who care for our bears agree that it is not healthy for the animals to be in such a loud and volatile environment. The tradition of "Pit" has also been moved away from the bear facilities.

Another change that is coming is an enlarged and renovated Steve Hudson Memorial Bear Plaza.

The project will increase the size of the current plaza to include more trees, grass and water features, which will be much better for the bears, in terms of giving them a habitat where they can move around more freely. The renovations are expected to cost about $800,000, and a fund-raising campaign will begin later this fall to secure the gifts necessary to complete the project.

The current bear plaza, built in 1976, is designated as a Class C specialty zoo and educational exhibit. Licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and approved by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to hold up to three bears, the facility currently houses two female bears - Joy and Lady, almost 2 and 3 years old, respectively.

In 1999, members of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce submitted a proposal for enhancing the bear facility, but at the time the University already had slated a number of other construction priorities that directly impact students' living and learning environments. Now that several of these projects - including the law school, seminary, museum complex, science building and a residential facility - are completed or are near completion, the focus can shift to providing a more natural habitat for the bears.

Adam Ylitalo, bear trainer and senior from Longview, said he is looking forward to seeing how the plaza can be transformed. "I'm very excited about the chance to build something that is world-class, state-of-the art - something that could be one of the best exhibits in the nation."

With an improved habitat, Baylor hopes to keep its bears through their natural lifetimes. It has been increasingly difficult to find an acceptable way to retire our bears, and the University has an obligation to make sure the bears are well cared for while they are under our stewardship.

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