FLORENCE, Ala. — At the University of North Alabama, it’s almost impossible to avoid an image of Leo III, the university’s live lion mascot.
The seventeen-year-old lion shared that title with his sister, Una, until her passing in June.
University Director of Communications and Marketing, Michelle Eubanks, said following Una’s death, there was a general sadness among the UNA community.
“Leo and Una were very much a part of our campus life,” Eubanks said. “To see the two of them, even if they were just lounging in the sun, maybe they were playing with one of their many toys, those things had become normal and expected parts of campus traditions and life.”
Campus visitors have placed a memorial for Una with flowers and notes at the George H. Carrol Lion Habitat.
Throughout the years, the two were celebrated at several university and sporting events and were even thrown birthday parties, but now that Leo is all by himself in the habitat, animal rights groups like PETA are calling for the university to retire him.
PETA sent UNA a letter saying the organization would be eager to help Leo live out the rest of his days in a vast habitat.
The university responded saying that the mascots’ care has always been a top priority and while PETA’s suggestions are appreciated, there are no plans to change the approach to Leo’s housing.
The university has not released whether they plan to continue the live mascot tradition after Leo III.
See the university’s full statement below.
“The University of North Alabama appreciates the condolences, interest, and concern expressed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the wake of Una’s passing in late June. The care and keeping of Leo and Una has always been a top priority at UNA, and we have complete confidence in our veterinarians and trained volunteers that staff the on-campus George H. Carroll Lion Habitat. Our UNA community has enjoyed visiting our lions on campus, and our lions have a special place in our University traditions. While we appreciate the recent suggestions from the PETA organization, we have no plans to change our approach to the housing and care of our lions.”