Live tiger cub mascot at Ohio school’s football games under fire by animal rights groups

© Peter Andrews
An Ohio high school’s tradition of featuring a live tiger cub as its mascot during football season continued on Thursday, despite concerns raised by animal rights groups and new state regulations concerning exotic animals.

Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio began using a live tiger to portray its mascot, named Obie, at its football games in 1970, and its mascot travels with them for away football games as well.

The appearance of the mascot at the opening game on Thursday was no exception, but it might be the tiger’s only appearance this season.

The school leases a tiger cub each year to be the mascot for its Tigers team, but animal rights groups are raising concerns about compliance with state regulations for exotic animals – and concerns over its welfare.

We were only able to make arrangements for [one appearance]” said Matt Keller, club president, to Massillon’s daily newspaper the Independent. “It’s one tradition we were able to continue, even if just for one game.”

In May, the Associated Press reported that the state agriculture department had contacted the Tiger Football booster club over compliance concerns.

The school was able to host the cub through an exemption as an educational institution, but its booster club had to prove the cub would live at an accredited facility when it had outgrown its role and ensure that it would be cared for throughout its life.
The tiger cub also caught the attention of a Texas-based nonprofit, One World Conservation, which called members of the school board to urge them to end the tradition.

One World chief executive Karrie Kern told the Associated Press that a football game is not a place for a big cat with sensitive hearing and potentially dangerous instincts.

I’m from Texas. You know, we’re all about football, too, and I get that, but what that cub is experiencing is unbelievable,” Kern said.

Ohio regulators introduced rules requiring owners to register exotic animals following in incident in 2011 when a farm owner let loose nearly 50 animals, many exotic, before dying of a self-inflicted wound.

The animals released included tigers, lions, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels, and grizzly bears. Police said the animals’ cages had been left opened and the farm’s fences were unsecured.

Officers with assault rifles shot and killed the animals after tracking them through the woods of rural Ohio.