Twenty years after settling on the Cougar as their official mascot, the University of Houston made the logical decision to begin keeping live mountain lions on retainer. Serving as a campus pet, feline guest of honor at events and mascot at football games, Shastas I through V were, literally, the pride of UH. Though the tradition lives on through Shasta VI at the Houston Zoo and school lore, here are a few things most people don’t know about Shasta.
Shasta I was paid and cared for by a fraternity.
In 1947, the newly chartered service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega petitioned and raised money in order to buy UH’s first live mascot, Shasta I, from wild animal rancher Manuel King. The then-unnamed, 15-month-old cougar was transported from Brownsville to the University, officially kicking off a long tradition of live mascots at UH. Once Shasta I made it to campus, APO formed the Cougar Guard to handle her care and transportation—occasionally risking life, and literally limb, in service of UH.
Shasta was almost named Raguoc.
Once Shasta arrived at UH, students took part in APO’s “Name the Mascot.” The winning submission came from student Joe Randol: Shasta, denoting a colloquial version of the phrase “She has to.” “Shasta have a cage, Shasta have a keeper, Shasta have a winning ball club, Shasta have the best,” Randol said. The runner up in the competition, “Raguoc” (cougar spelled backwards) didn’t make the cut. Luckily.
Shasta lived in Lynn Eusan Park
After making the decision to leave the care of a live mountain lion to a handful of fraternity members, UH decided to take a step further and keep it on campus. After acquiring Shasta II, the University constructed Shasta’s Den in the Southeast corner of Lynn Eusan Park. Though Shasta II’s tenure was short-lived due to her unruly attitude, subsequent Shastas stayed on campus in Shasta’s Den.
Amazingly, no one died.
Shasta II wasn’t the only uncooperative cougar to be cared for by the University. Shasta IV, a.k.a. “Baby Shasta,” also ended up uncontrollable for the Cougar Guard. To be fair, the fact that no one got mauled to death across the 42 years of live mascots is an impressive accomplish. Looking back though, Joe Randol’s original submission “Shasta have a cage, Shasta have a keeper…” seems more and more like a desperate plea to UH.
Shasta III had a side career modeling.
The third Shasta wasn’t just a mascot for UH. Nicknamed “the Lady,” the Cougar appeared in several American Motors car commercials before her retirement. This may just make her the most famous live mascot UH has ever had. And why the American Motors needed a live Cougar in their commercials, we may never know.
After the death of Shasta V in 1989, the University opted not to bring live mountain lions to games.
After nine years of service, Shasta V was retired in 1989 due to kidney failure. Following her death, the University stopped the practice of bringing a live mascot to games. Instead, they chose the next best thing: a costumed student. Though Shasta V was the last live cougar to be brought to games the legacy still lives on in Shasta VI, who resides at the Houston zoo. And for some reason, debate over whether or not we should bring a live mountain lion to football games also continues.
There’s a bit of confusion over Sasha.
In recent years, UH has added a female sidekick mascot for Shasta. This has caused a bit of confusion for some alumni, as Shasta is already a female. Then again, “Shasta” seemingly made the transition from female to male. Maybe they’re like the velociraptors in “Jurassic Park” or Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl.”
Shasta isn’t the only cougar to be associated with the University of Houston
In the early 2000s, the University of Houston launched their “Learning. Leading” campaign, however, without a live Shasta. Instead, UH marketing used a “professional animal model” named Tigger, who can be seen throughout various promotion material released during the years before Shasta VI. Though his work with the University was short lived, he probably holds the record for least students bitten by a UH-sponsored mountain lion.
You get to go to the Houston Zoo free because of Shasta VI
In 2011, the Houston Zoo adopted a baby mountain lion whose mother was killed by a hunter. Shortly after, through a partnership with UH, the new mountain lion was dubbed Shasta VI. In honor of this, all University of Houston students gain free admission to the zoo. So next time you’re downtown maybe stop by to say hi to Shasta VI. After all, as the zookeeper in this article says (somewhat ominously), “He still has almost a goofy, young boy type personality … Whenever he sees little children running around, he gets very excited, and he will come down and watch them.”