PETA says please

Begs University not to purchase a new live mascot

Published: Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 22:11

TOM II was part of tradition at The University of Memphis, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) believes some traditions should be broken.

Last week, PETA sent a letter to The U of M President Shirley Raines urging her not to acquire another live tiger to replace the recently deceased TOM II.

PETA's Lisa Wathne, captive exotic animals specialist, said the University of Oxford conducted a study that said big cats have a difficult time in captivity. The group believes such animals should be phased out in zoos and especially as mascots.

"The best tribute The University could give to TOM II is to not allow another tiger to spend its life in captivity," Wathne said.

The Highland Hundred Football Boosters is the alumni group that pays for and takes care of the tiger without any funding from The U of M. TOM II was cared for by Bobby Wharton for the majority of his life. For almost 14 years, the tiger was housed on St. Nick's Farm and Zoological Park in Collierville, until he was moved to an area south of Memphis according to the Highland Hundred's Web site. The Highland Hundred are currently looking for a new tiger to replace TOM II.

Scott Forman, who will take over as project chairman of TOM III for the Highland Hundred, declined to respond to PETA's comments.

Bob Eoff, vice president for communications, public relations and marketing, said the Highland Hundred took care of TOM II for his whole life. The U of M had no dealing with the tiger. Wharton took care of the tiger with his own money and donations.

Eoff said The University respects both sides' opinions, but "there is no reason why The U of M would not accept a new tiger because the animal is cared for so well."

The enclosure where TOM II stayed scored a 100 percent when it was last checked by veterinarian Kenny Howard, Eoff said. The enclosure includes two swimming pools, a water well, a climate controlled den, a veterinary facility and multiple security features according to the Web site.

Wathne said the tiger's home may be "world class," but that is nothing to a tiger. Wathne said the enclosure is about 3,500 square feet. Animals such as tigers and lions normally have large areas that they roam. Tigers wander about 400 miles in the wild, but enclosures are tiny in comparison, Wathne said. The lack of space is the main concern because they need space to hunt, swim and run.

Wathne said PETA has not contacted the Highland Hundred because The University has the power to say no to a new tiger. If The U of M does not want a new TOM then the group will stop looking for a new tiger, Wathne said.

"Wild animals do not respond well to being in captivity, and big cats especially show neurotic behavior," Wathne said.

Animals that are "bored out of their minds" pace in the same place, sleep a lot or even mutilate themselves, she said. Self-mutilation can include licking or chewing on the same spot until that spot becomes raw or bleeds.

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