WACO, Texas – On a normal day driving down the road one girl’s life would change because of one stop. Her father, Paul Carr, decided to stop at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to see a unique sight-two North American black bears on a university campus. “She saw the bears when she was seven or eight and at that moment decided she was going to go to Baylor,” says Carr. While he adds that there are many more important factors to choosing a college, the awe factor often captures young children’s imaginations and interests them in Baylor more than other colleges.
Baylor and LSU are the only campuses in the nation to feature Class C zoos. The bear habitat serves to educate the public about bears, but the bears have become a bonus to the student experience and a unique aspect that sets Baylor apart from comparable schools. Many visitors are unaware of the bear habitat on campus, but after hearing about it they often seek it out.
Elliot Ehlen, a student tour guide, said, “When people return from the campus tours the three most asked questions are about financial aid, the bookstore, and the bears.”
The bears draw families to Baylor. Often, younger siblings will fall in love with the bears on campus and encourage their siblings to choose Baylor. Ross Reyes, another student tour guide, mentioned that many families find conversations about the bears. They will compare memories of the bears from their time on campus.
Carr, who now teaches journalism at Baylor, remembers the days when the bears would get to take walks around campus with the trainers. Students were allowed to pet and feed the bears. They also were featured in parades and at football games. However, federal law no longer permits the bears to be walked or attend parades and football games.
Carr was once given the opportunity to photograph the bears off their chains with the trainers. He slipped on the gravel making a scratching sound behind the bear and the bear quickly turned around. “That was a reminder that these are wild animals,” said Carr.
While Baylor has tried to contest the law prohibiting the bears in public areas saying that “the University of Texas has a cow with horns that’s bigger than our bears.” The government decided that UT’s cow is exempt from the ruling because it is a domesticated animal and the bears are wild animals. While the students agree that the bears used to be much more fun and entertaining than they are now, they still take great pride in their bears. The students feel like it is something they can brag about. One common saying was that “enhance the student experience.”
As a part of that student experience, the bears are cared for by students. One student is assigned to each bear to help train them and closely interact with them. Other students are given the opportunity to be assistants and help maintain the habitat on campus.
The school hopes to one day have close student-bear interaction on campus again. There is a possibility that the new football stadium might include an enclosure for the bears within the walls. Carr also added that he thinks the bears will be able to be walked again when the current bears retire and new cubs are brought on campus saying “If it’s just a size restriction I don’t see why the new cubs would be affected. They should be just like when these bears were cubs.”
As one of the few schools that can claim having live mascots living on campus, Baylor University is the proud home of the bear. They serve as school symbols, and bonding force, and a can’t-miss-this attraction.
To see this article along with its original page design click here.