Bear pit could face alterations after mascot research

Feb. 14, 2003

The Baylor Lariat

By Elvia Aguilar

Environmental studies students presented their research Wednesday on enrichment for captive animals as part of the Scholars' Day activities.

The discussion highlighted the treatment of the Baylor mascots and how Baylor can use enrichment methods to decrease the unnatural behaviors of Judge Joy Reynolds and Judge Sue 'Lady' Sloan in the future.

'Enrichment is the process of invoking a natural response to different stimuli, foods, puzzles and devices in any given animal's environment,' Briana Armendariz, an El Paso junior, said.

Beginning of concern

The interest in the bears' treatment increased after SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), a non-profit organization dedicated to ending abuse and suffering of animals, recently challenged Baylor to make changes in the Steve Hudson Memorial Bear Plaza.

SHARK accused Baylor of mistreating the mascots arguing that Baylor's status as a Class C zoo is not appropriate for the two bears.

However, Heidi Marcum, a senior lecturer in the environmental studies department, said the Baylor Chamber of Commerce is doing a good job.

'I think that the guardrails are not safe enough, and many other things need to be changed, but it is not the Chamber's fault,' Marcum said.

'They are doing the best they can, but they need money to make things better.'

Time for changes

Ben Simpson, a 2002 graduate and former Chamber member, conducted research on Joy this summer and concluded that enrichment improved her behavior.

Joy spent a significant amount of time foraging for food, rather than resting or sleeping.

Both Simpson and Marcum recommended that the bears receive a drastic improvement in their exhibit.

The Bear Pit has not been renovated since 1976.

Chamber has incorporated some of Simpson and Marcum's enrichment ideas and is trying to raise about $600,000 to renovate the bear plaza.

Marcum also praised Chamber's decision to allow both bears to interact with each other instead of keeping them apart.

Those present at the meeting said they were glad to hear of the changes and hope that conditions continue to improve.

'I was really concerned for the bear when I saw it pacing back and forth swinging its head,' said Kathleen Miller, an Armstrong Browning Library administrative coordinator.

Moving to other animals

Some of the students involved with the environmental studies program continue to do research on the effects of enrichment with animals such as lions, tigers and rhinoceroses.

The students have traveled to different zoos across the nation to learn different methods of enrichment.

Their projects were part of a summer environmental field school taught by Marcum.

The course involved four weeks of research and observation at Waco's Cameron Park Zoo and then one week in South Padre Island working with sea turtles.

'Enrichment is definitely a good thing, and we need to continue using it here,' Jennifer Alexander, a Hewitt graduate student, said.

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