remembering shasta vi
The University of Houston’s mascot and school symbol has passed away. Shasta VI, UH’s live cougar mascot who was housed at the Houston Zoo, died late Thursday, August 4, according to a joint UH/zoo announcement.
The 11-year-old cougar had been suffering from a progressive spinal disease which had rapidly deteriorated over the past few days, according to a zoo treatment. As veterinary staff treated Shasta for the spinal condition, they discovered the cougar’s declining kidney function, a syndrome common in older felines.
When it was clear that Shasta would not recover after a comprehensive assessment, the animal care and health teams made “the difficult decision” to euthanize him, per a zoo statement.
“Shasta has been a cherished member of our Zoo family and an icon for the University of Houston for over a decade, said Kevin Hodge, vice president of animal programs at the Houston Zoo. “We are all deeply saddened by this loss. We are committed to ensuring the animals in our care experience the highest quality of life. That includes their day-to-day care as well as end-of-life decisions. With world-class animal keepers, incredible veterinarians, and a complete veterinary clinic, our animals receive the best possible care right up to their last days.”
The beloved UH icon was often spotted sitting atop his habitat gazing at other species, especially elephants. Zoo staff, who adored him, remember him as a a true apex predator, stalking his keepers as they walked past him. The cougar was a fan favorite, drawing large crowds who would snap pictures of him as he struck graceful poses atop the rocks in his enclosure.
Gregarious, curious, and lively, Shasta VI grew from an adorable, charming cub to a stately symbol of school pride. He was said to enjoy the attention that visitors, especially UH fans, lavished on him, especially during the annual ceremony when he would “guard” the class rings by sitting or standing atop a large red box containing the students’ jewelry.
Shasta VI’s journey to Houston
Shasta VI (his name denotes his No. 6 order in the UH cougar mascot lineage) was just a few months old when he arrived in Houston in December 2011. The young cougar and his two brothers were rescued in Washington state after their mother was illegally killed by a hunter. The cubs’ rescue was pivotal: only five weeks old at the time of their mother’s death, they stood little chance of survival in the wild.
Not long after he arrived in the city, UH and the zoo entered into a partnership on March 24, 2012, where the young cougar was officially adopted and anointed UH’s mascot. UH alum, in the official Shasta bio, note that given his challenging background, Shasta represented “the spirit and tenacity of UH’s students and alumni, and personified the resilience and strength of the university.”
Cherished UH traditions at the zoo included the aforementioned guarding of the rings, as well as Shasta’s birthday parties and his live appearances via webcam at UH football games.
The Shasta name origin story
As for the name: In 1947, the UH chapter Alpha Phi Omega fraternity purchased a cougar from a wildlife preserve, under the condition that the students could crowdfund for the cougar’s cage and habitat, per a UH historical blog.
A naming contest in The Cougar daily newspaper ensued, yielding 225 submissions. Student Joe Randol won with the following submission: “Shasta (She has to). Shasta have a cage, Shasta have a keeper, Shasta have a winning ball club, Shasta have the best.” And with that, a legend was born.
Shasta I, the first UH mascot who served from 1947-1962, was also the originator of the school’s “cougar” hand sign. According to UH lore, Shasta I was in an accident on the way to a game in 1953 and lost one of her front toes. Opposing University of Texas apparently mocked UH by imitating the injury.
The Coogs, however, responded by adopting the gesture as a symbol of pride. Since then, UH alum flash the “cougar sign” by folding the ring finger of the right hand toward the palm.
Remembering Shasta VI
For now, Shasta VI is mourned by UH alum across the nation and world, with condolences pouring in — even from opposing schools.
“With the help of the Houston Zoo, it was our honor at the UH Alumni Association to bring Shasta VI to the UH family,” said Mike Pede, associate vice president for alumni relations, in a statement. “Shasta’s service and symbolism of pride and school spirit will live on with all who went to see him, had their rings guarded by him or saw his handlers adorn his habitat with spirited notes of support. Rest easy good friend.”