BATON ROUGE, La. -- An animal rights group wants Southern University to refrain from replacing the jaguar mascot that died Sunday from symptoms related to old age.
But Southern's chancellor said the university is likely to get a new cat and raise money for a habitat much larger than the previous mascot's 418-square-foot cage on the Baton Rouge campus.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a Norfolk, Va., group critical of schools that keep big cats as mascots, says Southern should end its three-decade-old practice of keeping a pet jaguar. It says the animal is too confined, suffers from lack of interaction with other jaguars and would pose a danger to humans if it escapes.
Amy Rhodes, PETA's animals-in-entertainment supervisor, said her group will encourage Southern to stop the live-animal tradition in favor of relying on a human-costumed mascot, which is the practice of most universities and all National Football League teams.
"Fortunately, it really is a dying tradition," Rhodes said of using live animals as mascots.
The 200-pound animal, called Lacumba, was healthy throughout her life and well-cared for by the university, said her veterinarian, Gordon Pirie. A diagnostic lab at Louisiana State University's veterinary school analyzed the dead animal and found that she died of kidney failure at age 15, generally considered the beginning of old age for a jaguar, Pirie said.
Asked whether he thinks Southern should acquire a new jaguar, Pirie said, "I've been asked that question a thousand times, and I would rather not comment on it."
Chancellor Edward Jackson told The Advocate of Baton Rouge that fans loved the jaguar and that he would be discussing the topic of a future mascot with the university's board of supervisors and alumni. The school is raising money for a Lacumba memorial and probably will decide to build a bigger habitat at a cost of at least $500,000, he said.
Rhodes said PETA also opposes LSU keeping its Mike the Tiger mascot, who will be furnished with a larger $2.9 million habitat this summer. Tigers and jaguars "are not props to be used in a pathetic attempt to rile up fans," she said.
"While we are happy that plans have been made to give Mike a bigger enclosure, this does nothing to ensure us that Mike will have the life he deserves," Rhodes said. "We urge LSU to retire Mike to a legitimate sanctuary, where he can live out the remainder of his life free from the stress of public display and unnatural living conditions."
Mike's supporters say his new facility will benefit the animal, supplement LSU's veterinary program and provide an opportunity to educate the public about an endangered species.
PETA has been critical of other college mascots, including the University of Memphis' 500-pound Bengal tiger TOM II, the University of North Alabama's lions, Leo and Una, and Baylor University's bears.