The Louisa County High School Lions in Virginia have a unique mascot, and PETA doesn’t like it.
A live, caged lion has been a fixture at the school’s home football games since 2005 according to the Charlottesville_Daily Progress. The tradition started when the senior class asked Doug Straley, the athletic director at the time, if he could get a live lion for the games.
Straley mentioned it to former coach Mark Fischer, who just happened to attend a church in Richmond with a pastor, Dr. Jim Lavender, who was a former circus ringmaster and kept exotic animals in a federally regulated compound.
When Fischer asked Lavender to come to the games with a lion, the pastor was happy to do so. He showed up with Bubba the lion at the first home game of the 2005 football season, and soon Lavender and his lion were attending almost every game. Last year, he even started bringing Bubba’s mate, a younger female lion, Sue, to some of the games.
Louisa County fans love the lion, and so do the opposing teams – Bubba has even been invited to appear at other schools events, such as a “Chronicles of Narnia”-themed prom at a rival school.
The Central Virginian reports that PETA has decided that the lions’ appearances are cruel to the animals and unsafe for the games’ attendees.
PETA representative, Brittany Peet, said that they were alerted about the lions at the games by a concerned area resident, but would not say if it was a Louisa resident.
“As long as students and members of the public are allowed within arm’s reach of an apex predator who could kill them with a single swipe of their claw, a huge risk exists,” she said.
A letter mailed on October 16th from Nina Kahn, a coordinator with PETA’s TeachKind humane education division, states that a “rowdy football game is no place for a stressed, wild animal,” citing the loud fireworks and crowds at the games as factors that may disturb the lions.
“Regardless of how long they’ve been kept in captivity, animals such as tigers and lions are distressed and terrified by the overwhelming noise, crowds and confusion they experience at such events as sports games – as well as by the jarring sounds of fireworks and cannons that are used at events such as yours.”
“Using an animal as a prop is not only cruel but also dangerous,” the letter continues.” An animal in distress will defend himself or herself at the drop of a hat. No amount of training or experience can stop an apex predator from acting out his or her natural behavior.”
The Inquisitr reported that PETA also made headlines recently for opposing the use of a chimp in a recent One Direction music video.
Lavender responded to PETA’s claims by respectfully disagreeing. The pastor, who has a passion for exotic animals, has raised adopted ones for 40 years and also uses them as part of his ministry. Lavender admits that not all lions are cut out for this kind of work, but Bubba and Sue are fine with it.
“We let the animals decide,” he said. “If the animal doesn’t enjoy it, we don’t make them do it.”
“We don’t hit our animals, we don’t abuse our animals and we don’t confine them unnecessarily. They have a fabulous diet. All of that won’t satisfy an animal rights extremist though.”
For now, the school has no plans to discontinue Bubba’s and his girlfriend Sue’s visits to the games, but Peet says that PETA will “monitor” the situation.
Do you think it is cruel to use a live animal as a football mascot?
[Images via Daily Progress]