Baylor University Welcomes New Cubs to Campus

For the first time in over two decades, the Baylor Bear Habitat welcomes two new live bears to the Baylor Family

May 22, 2023
2 North American black bear cubs

(L to R) - Judge Indy and Judge Belle (Matthew Minard/Baylor University)

Contact: Lori Fogleman, Baylor University Media & Public Relations, 254-709-5959
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WACO, Texas (May 22, 2023) – Baylor University today announced the addition of two American black bear cubs to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat. The cubs, named Judge Indy and Judge Belle, will join the Baylor Family in the on-campus habitat as early as mid-summer.

Cousins by birth, Indy – born Jan. 24, 2023, and currently weighing 25 pounds – is the largest of her litter, while Belle – born Jan. 29, 2023, and currently weighing 21 pounds – is the smallest of hers, with their size differential already providing some observed differences in their personalities, behavior and play dynamics.

“We are thrilled to welcome Judge Indy and Judge Belle to the Baylor Family as we continue the proud and important mission of the Baylor Bear Habitat into its next chapter,” Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone said. “Just as Joy and Lady served for more than two decades as an enduring symbol of Baylor’s spirit and tradition, we look forward to Indy and Belle in residence at the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat, where they will receive the same world-class supervision and protection of their dedicated student caregivers, staff and veterinary personnel. Indy and Belle will be remarkable ambassadors for Baylor and the bear program’s unique mission of stewardship, education and conservation for the local community and beyond.”

The rescue cubs were identified through a network of contacts that included the Bear Habitat’s veterinary team, an external bear consultant and colleagues from AZA peer facilities, finding the perfect fit with these two American black bears in need of a home from a wildlife park in Idaho.

In a normal year, the Idaho park expects six to eight cubs born in the spring and is able to care for or place the cubs through ongoing partnerships. The 2023 litter saw over double that number of cubs born, putting the park in a dire search to find homes for many of them. This gave Baylor a unique opportunity to locate cubs that have documented medical and behavioral family histories.

“Caring for large exotic animals can be a real challenge, particularly when you often do not know what health trends and markers might exist in their genetic history,” said Sharman Hoppes, D.V.M., exotic animal veterinarian from Texas Avian & Exotic Hospital and professor emerita in zoological medicine at Texas A&M. “After having the opportunity to observe the cubs and meet with the dedicated staff from Baylor, I feel confident that these bears will get the very best care possible and that they are being placed in an ideal opportunity to thrive in an AZA-accredited facility.”

After a lengthy observational period with the Bear Habitat’s external bear consultant and evaluation by the Habitat’s veterinary team, the cubs were deemed an ideal fit for the unique operational nature and mission of the Baylor Bear Habitat, officially entering the University’s care earlier this month.

“I share in the Baylor Family’s excitement at the arrival of Judge Indy and Judge Belle to the Baylor campus, and I am particularly thrilled for our students and alumni, who have such a deep bond with our bears and the longstanding tradition of the Baylor Bear Habitat,” said Kevin Jackson, Ph.D., Baylor vice president for student life. “That is due to the dedicated student caregivers within the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, who are trained and professionally mentored to provide Indy and Belle with the gold standard of care and enrichment every single day without fail. At the same time, education remains a constant part of the Habitat’s mission, providing rich opportunities for our bear program leaders to interact with and educate young people about American black bears.”

Meet the bears

Judge Indy
Baylor mascot North American black bear, Indy

The largest cub from her litter, Indy will likely be easy to identify throughout her lifetime as the larger of the two bears. Naturally, she has taken the more dominant role and was immediately observed as being the more independent of the pair. In the Baylor Family, Indy calls to mind the birthplace of Baylor University in Independence, Texas, some 100 miles from the heart of the Waco campus. This historic site and the four remaining columns from early Baylor life serve as a gathering point for new students who are learning about Baylor’s mission and traditions through Baylor Line Camp.

Judge Belle
Baylor mascot North American black bear, Belle

Small in stature with a big personality, Belle was the smallest cub from her litter. Despite the size differential with her cousin, Belle is not one to back down from a good wrestling session with Indy but is often the first to walk away to enjoy a stroll through the wildflowers. Belle is named as an ode to the McLane Carillon bells – housed in the iconic tower of Pat Neff Hall – whose chimes across campus have provided the soundtrack for thousands of students who have called Baylor home. Similar to the chimes from the carillon tower, Belle has been known to make her own vocal music, often signaling her feelings around feeding and play times with loud squawks and chirps.

American black bears have a large native habitat range that includes Texas, and extends as far north as Alaska and Canada, as far south as northern Mexico and throughout each of the lower 48 states. Unlike the seasonal cinnamon-colored variance in the coats of Lady and Joy, it is expected that Indy and Belle will carry jet-black fur throughout the year. American black bear coats vary widely by individuals and regions, including white, blonde, cinnamon, light and dark brown, jet black and silver variations.

Next chapters

As the Habitat experiences a transitional era, Judge Lady, 21, is set for a mid-summer permanent move to the Bear Habitat’s newly constructed, private auxiliary facility where she will remain under the full care and attention of her Chamber caregivers and veterinary team.

The Bear Habitat’s student care team has nearly doubled, as they care for two rambunctious cubs and continue to attend to the needs of an older bear. In addition to the gold-standard AZA accreditation – the first university in the world to receive this designation – regulatory oversight and licensing are provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The teams are being trained with unique skillsets, and care will require significantly more working hours. A graduate assistant position has been added to the team to help bolster the roster of highly trained and skilled caregivers.

What to expect

The cubs will have a gradual introduction into their new home and routines in the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat, getting acclimated to their new human caregivers and visitors. Like new puppies or human toddlers, the cubs require constant supervision and will be rotating on and off of public exhibit throughout the summer months.

Because their schedule will be irregular for now, the Habitat team is exploring ways to communicate with the Baylor Family when the cubs will be in the on-campus habitat as their routine begins to solidify. Like their human counterparts in the 2023 entering class, the cubs are expected to enjoy “Move-In Day” into their campus home in mid-August.

“Judge Indy and Judge Belle are the most remarkable bears – they love people, are resilient and exude so much hope,” said Dakota Farquhar-Caddell, associate director of student activities and The Robert L. Reid Director of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce. “It’s clear after my time with them that they will fit in perfectly with the Baylor Family. They are bursting with energy, so over the next few months we’ll continue to prioritize building trust with their Chamber caregivers and bonding with them along with exposing them to lots of new sights, sounds, foods and scents to best enrich their development as cubs. We cannot wait until the entire Baylor Family gets to appreciate them in person – they bring so much joy to everyone they encounter.”

In these early developmental stages, it is crucial to get the cubs acclimated to the unique, high-human-contact routines and training needs of the Bear Habitat, setting them up for successful and low stress interactions on future road trips for veterinary care and in daily activities around the Habitat.

New sights and sounds around the Habitat, like the closing of the trailer door or the sound of a blender preparing food, can be surprising at first, but the cubs have quickly adjusted and are progressing through some early foundational training efforts. They also have started basic leash training at the recommendation of the veterinary team, as this greatly reduces stress and assists in providing treatment and observations of the bears as needed.

Guiding light

With guiding pillars of stewardship, education and conservation, the Bear Habitat has cared for bears on campus since 1917. The construction of the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat in 2005 and the program’s AZA accreditation in 2021 were milestone achievements along the way to developing the Baylor Bear Habitat into a gold standard animal care provider.

The addition of Indy and Belle is an exciting time for the University and the Baylor Bear Habitat. This tremendous responsibility carries a high financial commitment – one that would not be possible without the generosity of the Baylor Family. For more information about how to donate to the Bear Habitat and continue the legacy of this important Baylor tradition, and the conservation and education opportunities the bear program provides, visit


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 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 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.