With Untimely Death of TOM III, University of Memphis Ends Shameful Practice of Bringing Live Tiger Mascots to Football Games

With Untimely Death of TOM III, University of Memphis Ends Shameful Practice of Bringing Live Tiger Mascots to Football Games

Memphis, Tenn. (September 22, 2020) — After ten thousand In Defense of Animals supporters wrote to the University of Memphis to stop exploiting a tiger as a live mascot over ethical, conservation and safety concerns, the organization has claimed a bittersweet victory with TOM III’s passing on September 18. 

Following the tidal wave of concern for TOM III’s wellbeing and his subsequent untimely death, the University of Memphis has decided to bring an end to the controversial decades-old tradition of trucking a live tiger to football games every year.

“We’re deeply saddened by the death of TOM III. It’s unfortunate that captivity was the only life he ever knew,” said Lisa Levinson of In Defense of Animals. “His death is bittersweet in that he never got to experience life in the wild, but we’re grateful that University President M. David Rudd decided TOM III will be the last live tiger the University of Memphis ever trucks to football games. We thank all the thousands of In Defense of Animals supporters who took action to call for an end to the University’s live mascot program.”

TOM III had served as a fixture on Tiger Lane and in the south endzone during all games. Tens of thousands of fans took pictures with him every year. 

However, the practice of exploiting a live tiger as a mascot has drawn increasing criticism for a number of reasons. Forcing TOM III to endure the stress of attending loud games with thousands of fans was simply cruel, while using him as a photo prop undermines conservation efforts to protect this endangered species in the wild. 

His use also posed a serious safety risk to the community and first responders. Overall, keeping these apex predators in conditions where their needs are severely compromised, and putting the public in danger, has prompted Congress to consider the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would ban their private possession in the U.S.

Many university sports teams have ended their live animal mascot programs over concerns for the safety and wellbeing of both animals and fans. However, the University of Memphis has not taken this step.

Disappointingly, the University has struck a deal with Memphis Zoo to keep its next live animal mascot, TOM IV. The University and Zoo have not yet announced whether TOM IV will be purchased or bred, but if the deal goes ahead, TOM IV will likely only ever know a life of captivity.

“We are glad that TOM III will be the last tiger subjected to the stress of a football stadium, but there is no need to condemn another tiger to a life behind bars,” said Fleur Dawes, of In Defense of Animals. “Tigers are seriously imperiled in their wild homes and the University has a chance to make a positive contribution. We are calling on the University of Memphis football team to ‘go wild’ by sponsoring a wild TOM IV and protecting tiger habitat. Go wild tigers!”

In Defense of Animals has offered sincere condolences to President M. David Rudd in his time of sorrow by sending flowers and a sympathy card, coordinating a student letter-writing campaign, and enlisting local activists to host a memorial on behalf of TOM III.


Contact: Lisa Levinson,, 215-620-2130


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