Photo from In Defense of Animals
For over 40 years, the University of Memphis has traveled with a live tiger as the team mascot to every football game. Over the years, the University has used three tigers, who have all been named TOM (Tigers of Memphis).
All three TOMs were “presented” as youngsters to the University at football games. TOM III now serves as a fixture on Tiger Lane and in the south endzone during all games. Sadly, tens of thousands of fans have had their pictures taken with tigers over the years.
However, big cats don’t belong at loud, crowded football games with over 60,000 cheering fans.
In Defense of Animals supporters have written over 9,000 emails urging the University of Memphis to stop exploiting tigers as live mascots over ethical, conservation, and safety concerns.
“Forcing wild animals who are very sensitive to their surroundings into crowds of screaming people is stressful and cruel. Taking pictures with a tiger also sends a harmful message and teaches fans that wild animals belong in cages, rather than in their natural habitats, and that they exist for our entertainment,” said Lisa Levinson, Wild Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals in an email sent to WAN. “It’s time to leave TOM III at home, instead of carting him around to attend games.”
Legal and ethical concerns surround the use of live animal mascots. Wild animal selfies are widely condemned by conservation and animal protection organizations. University news outlets also acknowledged the welfare concerns of the continued use of live animal mascots.
TOM III’s used as a live mascot is especially troubling given that tigers are an endangered species in need of increased protection in the wild. Exploiting captive tigers undermines those efforts. Keeping these apex predators in conditions where their needs are not met, and putting the public in danger, has prompted Congress to consider the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would ban their private possession in the United States.
The presence of a live tiger does not intimidate rival teams, but it does put them in real danger should the tiger escape. When the Louisiana State University (LSU) tiger mascot Mike IV escaped, he was shot with a tranquilizer gun three times before being recaptured. LSU has wisely made the decision since to stop carting its tiger mascot to games. They should also release him to an accredited sanctuary.
In addition to being extremely stressful and cruel to the tigers who are deprived of space to roam free, and everything that wild animals need to thrive, it is very expensive to care for tigers. The first TOM lived in a garage before being housed at the local zoo where he was a “popular attraction” for nearly 20 years. After living in a private home for a few months, the second TOM moved to the $300,000 Tiger House at St. Nick’s Farm and Zoological Park, where he died of cancer at 17 years old. TOM III’s enclosure cost $700,000 to build.
“Why cause undue stress and suffering to TOM III when The University of Memphis has a perfectly capable human mascot named Pouncer?” shared Marilyn Kroplick M.D., President of In Defense of Animals. “President Rudd, this is your golden opportunity to launch an educational and ecologically sound campaign to keep wild animals in the wild.
You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg