December 28, 1998

Dr. V. Lane Rawlins, President
Via e-mail:
Administration Building 341
University of Memphis
Memphis, TN 38152-6643

Dear President Rawlins:

Recently I learned that the football team at the University of Memphis has a live tiger as the team’s mascot. They are indeed beautiful animals--elegant and graceful while remaining rough and tough, having that “killer instinct” every coach admonishes his team to display. A strong example for a team of fine athletes to revere. Tigers are also highly social animals, within their communities, and demonstrate intelligence in their natural habitats. An excellent standard for your college’s students to follow.

What is perhaps not the best example or standard for your students is the use (and what could be called abuse) of a wild tiger for amusement and entertainment purposes. As you may be aware, the number of tigers in the wild is declining as natural habitats and resources are being depleted. If live tigers and not just taxidermed museum varieties are going to be around for future generations of students to see, study and appreciate, we need to begin now protecting both the tigers and their habitats.

Removing tigers from the wild and placing them on display during football games hardly seems befitting this beauteous beast or proactive in protecting them for the future. Even if your team’s mascot was purchased from a zoo, circus or roadside show, at one time it or its parent was snatched from his habitat. As an involuntary performer, it will never experience a natural existence mating or rearing its own young--imagine if your opportunity to determine your own fate and existence were squelched so haphazardly.

There is also the issue of student, faculty, staff and crowd safety. Wild animals which are denied their natural (wild) lifestyles can develop psychological disturbances, become frustrated, agitated and lash out unprovoked. It would be a sad day for both the human victim and the tiger, who would likely be killed, for such a violent--possibly fatal--outburst. Even if your tiger can be kept controlled at all times, the methods required are likely to inflict pain and instill fear and constant stress, which you can see is a cruel existence for any living thing.

Dr. Rawlins, my alma mater’s mascot is the yellowjacket--an insect with as fierce as a stinger can be represented in cloth. The students, faculty, staff and crowds cheered the team to many victories with the encouragement of a student mascot dressed in yellow and black toting his giant insect head. I am certain that a University of Memphis student proudly donning a ferocious tiger suit could do the job just as well. After all, the inspiration is drawn from the spirit and not body of the beast--right?

Considering all of the above, I encourage you--no, not encourage, I challenge you to do the right thing by this tiger. Please retire him to a rehabilitater so that he can be returned if not to the wild, then at least to a nature preserve to live a wild, natural life more befitting such a regal creature. Compassion is a great lesson you can teach your entire student body, and wildlife preservation is a legacy you leave future students.

Thank you for sharing some of your valuable time with me by reading my perspective.


Leigh-Anne Dennison