Bears — real, live bears — have lived on the campus of Baylor University since 1917, and two new bear cubs will make their debut at the Bill & Eva Williams Bear Habitat any day now.
Judge Indy and Judge Belle arrived at Baylor’s off-campus auxiliary bear facility in mid-May. Sometime early this month, they’ll move to their on-campus home, and swap places with Judge Lady, who is 21 and has lived on-campus for the past two decades.
The two cubs were born in January at an educational game park which normally houses about six bears, said Dakota Farquhar-Caddell, associate director of Student Activities and the Robert Reid Director of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce. The park temporarily had a population of 16 bears, and since Belle and Indy were born under human care, they couldn’t be released into the wild, so Baylor was a perfect fit.
“It’s important that we select bears that appreciate human interaction, because some bears don’t”
Farquhar-Caddell said. “And being in the middle of a college campus isn’t a good home for bears that don’t like humans. It’s important that we provide a home for bears that do like humans, that appreciate and thrive in high paced environments, and that cannot be re-released, and Indy and Belle were perfect for that. It couldn’t have happened any better. From an early age, just being one or two months old, we were able to discern that they really thrive off human interaction.”
Farquhar-Caddell graduated from Baylor in 2011, and was a member of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the bear program. He worked with the bears Judge Lady and Judge Joy.
Each semester, anywhere from 12 to 20 chamber members are charged with taking care of the bears. The students undergo an intense training period and interview session before having the opportunity to work with the bears, and they must observe more experienced members’ interactions with the bears as well.
Baylor juniors Connor Halloran and Abbie Wickham are two of the current chamber members working with the bears. They both joined the group in August 2022.
“Joining the bear committee was not something I saw myself doing,” Wickham said. “I thought I was going to be fulfilling some of our other roles that we have as a club on campus. And then a good friend of mine said I should just try it out for a semester. And I think within the first week, I was like, ’OK. This is it for me. I love it here. I want to do this for the rest of my time in this club, for the rest of college.’ I love the culture that we’ve created, the atmosphere. It’s such a unique opportunity that I would argue that very few other college students, if any, have. And to be entrusted with such an instrumental part of Baylor’s culture, and what we put forth as a university, is a blessing and a great opportunity.”
Halloran grew up in Auburn, Massachusetts, and lived near a zoo that counted a polar bear among its residents.
“It was this big thing; the people in our neighborhood took care of this polar bear, and I’ve always thought that was so cool,” he said. “I thought that it’d be something cool to do if I went to Baylor. When I came here, I was like, ‘I need to take care of that bear,’ so I sought out the people who did it.”
A typical day for Wickham and Halloran and other chamber members who work with the bears begins by preparing Lady’s breakfast, which includes omnivore chow, fruit, a raw protein such as turkey or tuna, and nuts.
While Lady eats and takes part in enrichment activities, such as hunting for nuts that have been placed around the habitat or hidden in her toys, the students clean out her sleeping quarters, scooping poop and spraying down the floor. They make sure Lady receives any medication she needs, and also observe the bear’s behavior, to see if anything is out of the ordinary. During the hot summer months, Lady goes back inside about noon to get out of the heat, and the students work in her yard, cleaning toys, draining and scrubbing her pool and scooping more poop. Then they prepare Lady’s dinner each evening, giving her vegetables instead of fruit.
The chamber’s bear team also cares for Indy and Belle at their off-campus location, and that job entails preparing bottles of milk that’s 54 percent fat. That high fat content results in bear cub poop that is especially hard to clean up. That task usually takes an hour and involves scrubbing the floor with
Dawn dish soap, Halloran said.
One thing that is not on the approved diet of the bears is Dr Pepper. Back in the days that the bear mascot was on the sideline of Baylor football games — a practice which ended in 2010 — a trainer would open a bottle of the soda and let the bear guzzle it, much to the delight of fans.
An exception to that ban on Dr Pepper was made, however, on July 18, 2022. That was the day that Lady’s older sister, Joy, died peacefully at the age of 21, surrounded by her caregivers and veterinary team. She had arrived at Baylor when she was 4 months old.
On the morning of Joy’s passing, Baylor President Linda Livingstone visited the habitat and said goodbye to Joy and gave her a Dr Pepper to drink. A few hours later, Joy was given her final meal, a bowl that contained all of her favorite foods, like salmon, tilapia, maraschino cherries, avocados, walnuts and honey, Farquhar-Caddell said. For dessert, she had a Dr Pepper float made with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream.
“And that was her last hurrah,” Farquhar-Caddell said.
In 2021 Baylor’s on-campus bear habitat earned gold-standard accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the first University in the world to earn that designation.
“We have animal care experts at all times helping navigate the best next steps for the animals,” Farquhar-Caddell said. “We have a bear consultant that comes in semi-annually to help ensure that we’re providing the best care, and our veterinary team is world class. They are some of the best in the world. They meet with us every two weeks regularly to ensure the utmost health and wellness. And we’re always exceeding AZA, USDA and Texas Parks and Wildlife standards.”
Indy and Belle will move to the facility shortly after “cub-proofing” has been completed, Farquhar-Caddell said.
“Joy and Lady moved to our current on-campus habitat when they were several years old and they were way too big to sneak out of anything,” he said. “They weren’t climbing very much. But cubs have never lived in this habitat, so that means that there are some fencing areas we need to restructure. There are some gaps that fully-grown bears wouldn’t fit through, but cubs can. We’re basically doing an evaluation looking at what fencing we need to reevaluate, what areas we need to make sure aren’t going to be hazardous to cubs.”
And Baylor’s president is looking forward to having the cubs on campus.
“We are thrilled that Indy and Belle will be moving to campus soon,” Livingstone said. “Having our bears on campus provides wonderful opportunities for education, stewardship and conservation both to our campus community as well as those who visit from off campus. Our live mascots are loved by the Baylor family and are wonderful representatives of the university as they provide unique educational experiences for thousands of visitors every year.”