Longterm payoff bears recognition
WACO, Texas––A Showing Animals Respect & Kindness campaign targeting Baylor University back in 2002-2003 continued to pay off eighteen years later when the Baylor mascot bear enclosure, built in 2005 in response to the SHARK campaign, in May 2021 won Association of Zoos & Aquariums accreditation, “a first for a university-owned facility,” according to the university.
Waco Tribune Herald reporter Rhiannon Saegert even remembered that Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, better known as SHARK, sparked the effort that gradually transformed the Baylor bear care regimen.
Rarely has any animal rights campaign been recognized for achieving positive results so long after the fact.
No more Dr Pepper
“Less than 30 years after Baylor University stopped feeding live bears Dr Pepper,” opened Saegert back on June 8, 2021, “the Association of Zoos & Aquariums accreditation has put Joy and Lady’s on-campus enclosure in the same league as the best zoos in the world.
“The association,” Saegert summarized, “a nonprofit accrediting body for zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries, put its stamp of approval on Baylor’s Bill & Eva Williams Bear Habitat last month.”
The Williams Bear Habitat will be due for a reaccreditation visit from Association of Zoos & Aquariums inspectors in 2026.
Explained Saegert, “An association commission, with 15 elected experts in the zoo, aquarium and veterinary fields, visited in January 2021 to evaluate the habitat, along with Baylor’s standards for animal care, outreach and conservation efforts.
“As of April 2021,” Saegert said. “there were 241 accredited facilities in the United States. The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Florida, is home to the only other Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited enclosure at a higher education institution.”
Two bears spend their lives in eighth of an acre
The resident bears, 19-year-old Lady and 20-year-old Joy, now both quite old as North American black bears go, but cubs when the SHARK campaign started, have both indoor space and about 5,000 square feet of outdoor habitat, approximately an eighth of an acre.
Small as that is compared to the normal range of a wild black bear, it is above average for a zoo bear habitat.
Daily Baylor bear care is provided by a 14-member team of student volunteers and paid staff, under supervision of Dakota Farquhar-Caddell, who is also associate director of student activities and director of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce
Farquhar-Caddell “and a group of students in 2018 attended an Association of Zoos & Aquariums conference in Seattle and returned with a plan to secure accreditation for the university’s bear enclosure,” Saegert wrote.
“Next year, Farquhar-Caddell and his staff will go on Texas Parks & Wildlife-led service trips to help restore the North American black bear’s natural habitat in Texas,” Saegert added.
This, according to Farquhar-Caddell, “will help meet the association’s requirements that Baylor contribute to bear conservation and public education efforts.”
Bears beat out bookworms
North American black bears are considered endangered in Texas, with small populations persisting only in the Big Bend area near the Mexican border, and in the extreme northeastern part of the state.
The Baylor student body “voted in 1914 to adopt the North American black bear as its mascot,” Saegert recounted, over other candidates including buffalo [bison], antelope, frog, ferret, and bookworm.
“The first bear, named Bruin,” previously mascot of the 107th Engineers of the Army’s 32nd Division, “moved to campus in 1917,” Saegert said.
Waco pharmacist Charles Alderton first concocted the Dr. Pepper soft drink circa 1885, and had established it as a nationally distributed brand at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St. Louis in 1904.
Feeding Bruin and successors Dr. Pepper became a Baylor ritual, discontinued circa 1991 to protect the bears’ teeth.
“These days,” explained Saegert, “their diets consist of fish, fruits and vegetables, but they occasionally get treats like peanut butter, avocados or maraschino cherries. Their daily food intake is monitored, and every calorie is accounted for.
“The bears may not drink soda any more, but that was not the only tradition animal advocates objected to,” Saegert recalled.
Cheerleader’s megaphone, or dunce cap?
“According to a 2002 Tribune-Herald article, two members of the Illinois-based animal rights group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness held public protests in downtown Waco, criticizing the mostly concrete habitat and calling it inadequate. University officials said at the time that their facility complied with the law. The animal rights group launched an international protest campaign in an attempt to get the university to stop keeping live mascots.”
Reported ANIMALS 24-7 in October 2002, “As the living conditions of large carnivores and exotic wildlife in private hands go, the mascot bears at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, are better off than most.
“The six-month-old baby bear,” Lady, “has a toy: an orange cone. Some say it resembles a Baylor cheerleader’s megaphone. Others call it a dunce cap,” ANIMALS 24-7 observed.
“The 18-month-old senior bear,” Joy, “has a multi-level enclosure. Both bears have pools. Few roadside zoos or backyard menageries offer comparable amenities, but few are as visible to as many well-educated people, who might recognize conditions falling far short of optimal for the animals.”
“Baby bear cried for hours”
Baylor initially responded to the SHARK campaign, after SHARK documented stereotypical pacing, filthy water, and lack of any way for the bears to get off the bare concrete flooring, by putting up a plywood fence to inhibit casual viewing.
“Cut off from any way to see either the outside world or her quasi-companion in the next cage, the baby bear cried for hours,” reported SHARK founder Steve Hindi and volunteer Colleen Gardner.
Despite the plywood, Hindi and Gardner videotaped Lady, using a camera mounted on an adjustable pole.
Gardner flew from Salt Lake City to Chicago and drove south to Waco with Hindi after viewing earlier footage of the bears taken by her son Jeremy Beckham during a summer visit to Baylor to participate in a student debating tournament.
“Always looking for ways to improve”
“Our mascot program meets all standards of the USDA for a Class C zoo,” responded Baylor University associate vice president for external relations Larry D. Brumley. “Having said that, the University is always looking for ways to improve the bears’ environment.
“In 1976, a major renovation of the facility was completed,” Brumley continued.
With funding donated by the family of deceased student Steve Hudson, the then-31-year-old bear pit was tripled in size.
“Plans were developed two years ago to expand the facility and add natural habitat features such as grass and trees,” Brumley added. “The Baylor Chamber of Commerce, which manages our bear program, is in the process of identifying funding for the expansion.”
That did not impress Rob Laidlaw of the Canadian organization ZooCheck, critiquing zoos since 1979.
For starters, 1976 was already ancient history by 2002 in terms of ideas about how zoos should be built. The Walt Disney Corporation opened the Discovery Island Zoo in Orlando, Florida, for example, in 1974, as a then state-of-the-art facility, but closed it as hopelessly obsolete in 1998, when it opened the nearby Wild Animal Kingdom.
Few Association of Zoos & Aquariums-accredited bear exhibits had not either been built or completely rebuilt since 1976, typically with very different design concepts.
“The larger bear is displayed in an antiquated grotto-style enclosure that, for the most part, allows viewers to look down on the animal,” explained Laidlaw to Hindi and Gardner, after viewing their videotape.
“Grotto-style exhibits are no longer acceptable”
“This kind of enclosure,” still commonly seen at non-accredited roadside zoos, “is a throwback to the old 19th century menagerie-style zoos, where visitor viewing took precedence over responding to the needs of the animals. Grotto-style exhibits are no longer considered acceptable for any bear species,” Laidlaw continued. “Most animals become stressed when viewed this way.”
“At Baylor,” Laidlaw wrote, “the older bear,” Joy, “has only two choices: to be looked at from above, or to remain in or around the upper pool, where the bear paces for much of each day, so as to be on the same level as the viewers.
“The ground surface in the exhibit is also extremely problematic,” Laidlaw added. “American black bears are forest dwellers, who should be housed on soft substrates in large, naturalistic paddocks, incorporating live trees, understory vegetation, high grass, hillocks, and places to climb.
“Over the long term,” Laidlaw said, “the concrete substrate may lead to chronic sores, and/or more serious pathologies of the feet and legs.”
“Distressed bears in horrendously substandard conditions”
“Animals who incessantly pace on a hard surface,” ANIMALS 24-7 pointed out, “may develop chronic stress injuries similar to those suffered by marathon runners who overtrain, except that pacing bears actually tend to spend more hours pounding the pavement than marathoners, and often weigh four times as much, so that the cumulative pounding their knees absorb is even greater, without special shoes to reduce the shock.”
Laidlaw went on to note that the Baylor bears could not dig, could not construct day beds for themselves as they would in the forest, could not escape the sound of running water, were exposed to artificial lighting all night, and received little by way of environmental enrichment.
In consequence, Laidlaw confirmed, the stereotypical pacing and head-weaving that Hindi and Gardner documented was only to be expected.
“The videotapes clearly show distressed bears in horrendously substandard conditions,’ Laidlaw concluded.
Winnie the Pooh-poohed
Retorted Brumley, Winnie the Pooh-poohing the SHARK, ZooCheck, and ANIMALS 24-7 criticisms, “Anybody can find an ‘expert’ to support their cause.”
That offended Baylor University faculty members. Baylor faculty have often been quoted as experts in various fields since the university was founded in 1845. The prestige of Baylor University derives largely from its reputation for faculty expertise.
Acknowledged Saegert, “According to BaylorBears.com, the international campaign drove the university to stop bringing the bears to Baylor football games in 2003. Also in 2003, the university began a project to increase the size of the bears’ habitat and add more trees, grass and water features.
Today, said Farquhar-Caddell, “There are more areas for the bears to roam. There are more caves and waterfalls. The current facility offers a really robust, dynamic environment for them. We’re really proud of the facility we have now, and we’re grateful for what we learned along the way.”
The years since
The SHARK campaign ended after Baylor “ended the isolation of the two young sisters,” SHARK announced in September 2003.
“Joy and Lady can be seen playing together a great deal,” the SHARK announcement continued. “The weekly loud, wild pit parties that SHARK videotaped have been moved to a different location, away from the bears, who were severely stressed by the noise and commotion. The bear pit is being kept much cleaner. Far more is being provided for the bears by way of psychological enrichment.”
SHARK pledged to continue to press for improved quarters for the bears. The present Baylor bear habitat was completed in 2005, but additional improvements have been made since then.
The Baylor bear care team is particularly proud for a thus far successful treatment regimen for a large benign tumor suffered by the bear Lady, featured in a recently released 19-minute documentary film, Lady: The Miracle Bear.
Discovered in 2019, the tumor was surgically removed at Texas A&M University in 2020.
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