Mascots: Avian disease mycoplasma galliseptum grounds Auburn University eagles
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2003:
AUBURN, Alabama–A deadly outbreak of the avian bacterial
disease mycoplasma galliseptum is expected to end ceremonial eagle
flights at Auburn University home football games this fall, just
three years after the short-lived “tradition” started.
The use of live animals as football mascots has come under
intensifying protest from PETA, SHARK, and other animal rights
groups at colleges, universities, and even some high schools in
recent years. Auburn Univeristy appeared to have successfully
addressed the controversy back in 2000, however, by transferring
responsibility for the care of the caged eagles who symbolically
represent the War Eagles football team from the Alpha Phi Omega
fraternity to the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center.
Alpha Phi Omega had looked after a succession of four “War
Eagles” since 1960.
Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center director Joe
Shelnutt taught a 24-year-old golden eagle named Tiger to circle
Jordan-Hare stadium on cue.
Tiger later drew additional applause for lapping the Olympic
stadium in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics, but was
grounded by arthritis early in the 2002 football season. Shelnutt
had trained a stand-in, a seven-year-old bald eagle named Spirit,
who took her place.
Both Tiger and Spirit tested positive for mycoplasma
galliseptum in June 2003, after 11 other birds of prey died at SRRC.
The causes of death were officially unknown, but at least eight of
the dead birds also had mycoplasma galliseptum.
Commonly transmitted among birds who congregate at backyard
feeders, especially finches, mycoplasma galliseptum typically
blinds the birds first, after which wild birds are usually killed by
predators or in collisions with cars and stationary objects.
However, the disease is easily detected and dealt with,
said former SRRC eagler handler John Elmore, now Animal Program
Supervisor for Zoo Atlanta.
“If you quarantine for it correctly, you can’t have this bad
an outbreak. This is utterly ridiculous,” Elmore told
Opelika-Auburn News staff writer Katie Poole.
Poole disclosed on July 1 that Shelnutt had been fired,
under criticism from Alpha Phi Omega alumni and other Auburn donors,
but the firing was unpopular with supporters of the raptor center,
including Woody Bartlett, who gave $300,000 of the cost of building
it, in memory of his mother.
Staff members Stacy Hollenberger and Tauna Pierce remained on
the job until the death toll at the raptor center exceeded 30, then
resigned, leaving the center with just one employee to look after
the few survivors–including both Tiger and Spirit.
SHARK indicated during the summer that a year-long
confrontation with Baylor University over the care of the mascot
bears Joy and Lady may be over.
“Baylor has ended the isolation of the two young sisters,”
SHARK announced. “Joy and Lady can be seen playing together a great
deal. The weekly loud, wild ‘pit parties'” that SHARK videotaped
“have been moved to a different location, away from the bears, who
were severely stressed by the noise and commotion. The bear pit is
being kept much cleaner. Far more is being provided for the bears by
way of psychological enrichment. We were assured that Baylor has no
intention of separating the bears at this time. We will be looking
for assurances that the bears will not be separated during their
entire natural lives,” SHARK said, pledging that it will continue
to press for improved quarters for the bears as well.
Plans for improved quarters have apparently been drafted,
SHARK founder Steve Hindi told ANIMAL PEOPLE, but have not yet been
Austin Zoo president Cindy Carroccio meanwhile refused an
offer from Louisiana State University Alumni Association member Laura
P. Thomas to “make a proposal to our board regarding potential
sponsorship/adoption of tigers at the zoo.”
Carroccio replied that “We would be happier if you could make
sure that LSU never gets another live mascot once Mike V [the present
LSU tiger mascot] passes on.”
Responded Thomas, “If you would prefer to help Mike than
have us help you, maybe you can donate to the campaign raising funds
for his new $2.5 million habitat.”
Earlier Carroccio–whose zoo houses many ex-mascots– clashed
with Brian Werner of the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge over the use of
a resident tiger as football mascot at East Texas Baptist
Univer-sity. With just 1,500 students, ETBU is among the smaller
institutions boasting a live mascot.