Daniel Cernero | Lariat Photo Editor
Mascots Lady and Joy, who live in the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat, are no longer allowed to attend football games or other campus events on leashes.
Lady and Joy, Baylor's live mascots, are now too large to be shown in unconfined spaces in public. The bears will no longer be allowed at football games or other campus events on leashes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects Baylor annually, as part of federal regulations related to the school's possession of wild animals. This year the USDA notified Baylor of its decision not to allow the bears on leashes in public.
"The USDA has told us we are no longer permitted to bring our bears to our games and other public events," said Lori Fogleman, director of media communications. "The Bears remain a vital part of our traditions and of our community."
Kevin Jackson, vice president for student life, explained that due to the bears' age and size (Lady is 8 years old and 360 pounds and Joy is 9 years old and 345 pounds), the USDA concluded that it would not be safe to allow the bears to be unconfined in public.
"The regulations governing the public display of wild animals has been in place for some time now," Jackson said. "What has changed is our bears have grown in size and strength over the past several years and the USDA is concerned that our past practices of having the bears in public on a leash is not in the best interest of the bears nor the public. If a bear was to break free of the leash while in public, she could be hurt or someone else could be injured, and no one wants that."
The bears will still remain an important part of Baylor culture and campus life. Baylor has made an agreement with the USDA to keep the bears for the duration of their natural lives, which could be another decade or more. Efforts are being made to accommodate the bears in school events while abiding by the USDA regulations.
An off-campus site where the bears will be able to exercise is in the process of being built.
Harlingen senior Reece Fitzgerald is a bear trainer as a member of Chamber and explained Chamber's new plans concerning Lady and Joy's future at football games.
"We plan to continue the tradition of having them at games, and are currently researching the possibility of having a secondary bear habitat located at the stadium," Fitzgerald said.
Video of the bears will also be shown at sports games, in an attempt to keep the bears involved in campus events.
"Keeping the live mascot image in front of people is important," Jackson said. "Video will be used not to replace the bears but instead incorporate the image of our live mascots into sporting events."
Federal Code of Regulations 2.131(c)(1) describes the handling of animals: "During public exhibition, any animal must be handled so there is minimal risk of harm to the animal and to the public, with sufficient distance and/or barriers between the animal and the general viewing public so as to assure the safety of the animals and the public."
Chamber is still dedicated to caring for the health and safety of the bears, while sticking to their mission of educating the greater Waco community about North American Black Bears.
"We look forward to continued interaction with Baylor's mascots for many years to come," Fitzgerald said.