Baylor Bear Habitat Becomes First University Facility in the World to Earn AZA Accreditation

May 12, 2021
Baylor Bears

Baylor bears Judge Joy (foreground) and Judge Lady in the yard at the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat on the Baylor University campus, which has been approved for accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). (Matthew Minard/Baylor University)

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WACO, Texas (May 12, 2021) – The Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat at Baylor University today announced its approval for accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the independent, international accrediting organization for the best zoos and aquariums. Baylor University becomes the first university in the world to receive this designation and joins the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Florida, as the only AZA-accredited zoos on higher education campuses.

The Baylor Bear Habitat – maintained and staffed by a team of student caregivers within the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, trained professionals and a veterinary care team – joins the ranks of more than 240 of the most respected and reputable zoos and aquariums in the world and becomes the 16th AZA-accredited facility in the state of Texas.

“Baylor Bear Habitat is the first University mascot facility to achieve the demanding, gold standard AZA accreditation,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. “I’ve observed dozens of accreditation hearings and was impressed at the broad acclimation from commission members. The Baylor team did their homework and passed with flying colors. We are excited to welcome you to the AZA community.”

Currently housing two American black bears – biological sisters Judge Joy, 20, and Judge Lady, 19 – the Baylor Bear Habitat has invested heavily in offering world-class care to the University’s live mascots.

An extensive site visit in January 2021 by the AZA Accreditation Visiting Committee reinforced the success of these efforts, with specific recognition given to the animal welfare, veterinary care, educational efforts, facility quality and overall investment by the University.

The Habitat earned the additional distinction of earning accreditation on its first attempt, with only minor adjustments and trainings needed to meet or exceed all AZA recommendations.

“Our newly accredited status with AZA is a testament to the gold standard of care we're committed to providing black bears here on Baylor's campus,” said Dakota Farquhar-Caddell, associate director of student activities and Robert L. Reid Director of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, who supervises the team of student caregivers.

“The process toward accreditation has been one of great rigor and we're proud to be part of a global network that strives toward making the world a better place through conservation and education. We look forward to learning from and contributing to the wealth of knowledge that AZA curates and giving back to the animal care and wildlife field in this capacity.”

In addition, the AZA Accreditation Visiting Committee’s comments highlighted the commitment to animal care and welfare represented by the recent extensive veterinary care and attention offered to Lady, “which goes above and beyond what is normally expected as the standard of care.”

Lady continues to progress through a recovery and rehabilitation plan after the diagnosis and surgical removal of a spinal cyst. She received innovative, noninvasive radiation treatment called TomoTherapy in August 2019 and again in December 2019 – a treatment that is believed to be the first of its kind done on a bear.

With guiding pillars of stewardship, education and conservation, the Bear Habitat has established specific conservation plans and involvement in conservation programs that include efforts showing evidence of direct and measurable impact on animals and habitats in the wild, taking the next step forward in promoting resource conservation.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 19,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit