Along 5th Street Ursus Versus Shark
Volume 1, Number 4
One of Baylor’s oldest traditions came under attack in September by members of an animal rights group who declaimed the alleged mistreatment of the University’s two live North American Black Bear mascots.
Two members of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), a Chicago-area group, held a media conference in downtown Waco to protest what they charged was “cruelty” to the animals. Steve Hindi, founder of the group, showed videotape footage of the bears in their campus environment and claimed the tapes showed the bears exhibiting “neurotic behavior.”
Baylor administrators deny mistreatment of the bears. The University’s Steve Hudson Memorial Bear Plaza, built in 1976, is designated as a Class C specialty zoo and education exhibit. It is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Texas Parks and Wildlife to hold up to three bears. The facility has routine, unannounced inspections by the USDA’s animal care division. The most recent inspection was in September, at which time the facility was found to be “in full compliance,” according to a USDA spokesperson.
Baylor also works closely with veterinarians from Texas A&M to supervise the bears’ diet and physical health, said Larry D. Brumley, associate vice president for external relations.
SHARK’s involvement came as a result of a videotape sent to the group by Jeremy Beckham, a high school student from Utah who attended a debate camp at Baylor last summer. Brumley, along with student bear trainer Adam Ylitalo and Baylor Chamber of Commerce faculty adviser Betsy Willis, met with Beckham while he was on campus to address his concerns and questions.
One concern of the activist group was the bears’ need for a more natural habitat, a matter that has been under review by the University since 2000, Brumley said.
“As we look campuswide at ways to improve the University experience, certainly upgrading our bear facility is a part of that consideration,” Brumley said. “No one could argue that a more natural setting wouldn’t be preferable, not only for the bears but also for visitors. It isn’t currently high on the University’s capital projects priorities list, but we are confident that it will happen in time.”
Baylor’s bears are cared for by members of the University’s Chamber of Commerce student group, which reports the bear facility is the most-visited site on campus. The bear plaza currently houses 1-year-old Lady and 2-year-old Joy in the center of campus on a tree-lined creek. The facility is cleaned three times a week and the bears are taken for walks around campus regularly for exercise and to help socialize them, said Ylitalo, a Longview senior. Central Texas children’s groups often visit the bears and receive educational information from Chamber members about the breed.