Live mascot to represent UH after 20 year absence
New traditions will be blended with old on Saturday when the UH Alumni Association unveils a live cougar mascot for the University after more than two decades without one.
Though Shasta VI’s predecessors have lived on campus, this incarnation will remain in his exhibit at the Houston Zoo, said President of the UH Alumni Association Mike Pede.
“There are all kinds of reasons why a live cougar should not be out of where he’s being handled by professionals,” Pede said. “He will be there 24-7 with the 4-year-old cougar that already lives there named Haley.”
The Alumni Association has been in communication with the zoo since Jan. 2011, but they have been working on getting a new cougar for longer.
“Once we got here, we thought that was a very important tradition to try recreate or renew, so we’ve been working to do that since I got here two years ago,” Pede said.
One of the new traditions will be to leave class rings in the cougar exhibit overnight.
“We will take the class rings and put them in the exhibit in a specially made box that Shasta will be able to hop up on top of and bless those, basically,” Pede said.
The Alumni Association will also set up webcams in the exhibit so that Shasta can make digital appearances at UH events.
“I think in a perfect world, everyone would like to have their live mascot on their campus in a wonderfully laid out exhibit,” Pede said. “But I also understand all the issues that will have us handling it in this way.”
Shasta VI was born in September in Washington, and he now weighs about 45 pounds, said Houston Zoo Spokesperson Brian Hill.
“The weight for an adult male cougar is about 145 pounds, so he has a little bit of growing to do,” Hill said.
Shasta’s mother was killed by a hunter, and state wildlife officials were brought in to rescue Shasta and his littermates.
“Two of the cubs were found in short order,” Hill said. “But Shasta proved a little bit elusive.”
The cub was eventually found when state wildlife officials mimicked the chirping sound mother cougars use to communicate with their cubs, Hill said, and all three cubs were then taken to Oregon Zoo.
“Shasta had a pretty rough go as a young cougar, but he’s in a great place now,” Hill said.
Pede, who graduated from UH in 1989 and wore the Shasta suit as the mascot at UH football games, said that having a live cougar mascot provided a boost to school spirit.
“Whoever you’re walking through the zoo with,” he said, “you can beat your chest in pride for a couple minutes and say, ‘That’s my guy right there. He’s one of us and I’m one of them.’”