Houstonians, meet Shasta VI: The cutest cougar cub in the world and the newest addition to the University of Houston family.
Shasta VI arrived at the Houston Zoo in early December after inauspicious beginnings (his mother was killed by a hunter in Washington State), and the UH Alumni Association revealed on Wednesday that a partnership with the zoo, conceived almost two years ago and finally fulfilled, marks the continuation of a longstanding tradition.
In anticipation of each game day, a caricature of the opposing team's mascot will be filled with raw meat and thrown into the cougar cage.
Live cougar mascots were a part of UH campus life since 1947, when Alpha Phi Omega purchased Shasta I from a wild animal rancher in Brownsville and student Joe Randol chose the name (a slurred version of "she has to"). The line continued through 1989, when Shasta V —who lived in a cage at the corner of the Lynn Eusan Park on the UH campus — met her tragic end from kidney failure, and the tradition was suspended.
"In this day and age, you can't have a live mascot living on a college campus," UH Alumni Association president Mike Pede tells CultureMap. "It's just not going to happen."
Thanks to the collaboration with the Houston Zoo, anyone with Internet access will be able to watch Shasta VI 24 hours a day, seven days a week, via a webcam that will soon be set up in the cougar's den.
That same webcam will also allow for digital appearances by the live cougar at University of Houston football games and other events. It's perhaps not as immediately striking as a placid Bevo on the sidelines at University of Texas football game, but a video of Shasta VI on the prowl is impressive nonetheless.
The arrival of the new mascot will also bring along new traditions: In anticipation of each game day, a caricature of the opposing team's mascot will be filled with raw meat and thrown into the cougar cage. Shasta VI will bless the class rings issued to UH students each fall and spring semester on the night before the ceremonies.
"Shasta is a very typical cougar. In the wild, they're extremely shy and very elusive," said Beth Schafer, carnivore curator for the Houston Zoo. "It took him several days until he thought it was safe to leave his room and climb up onto the rocks."
Now, Schafer told CultureMap, Shasta VI has developed a personality. He plays, runs around on the rocks and he pounces and peers at visitors through the windows of the cage he shares with 4-year-old cougar Haley.
See for yourself at an event to welcome Shasta VI to UH and the Houston Zoo on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.