Mascots and College Students Team Up to Save Big Cats

Guest bloggers Dr. Alex Oberle and Mollie Ullestad represent the Geographic Alliance of Iowa (GAI), a National Geographic-supported organization that works to advance geography education in Iowa. Alex is an Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Northern Iowa and the Coordinator for the GAI. Mollie is a Geography Education student at the University of Northern Iowa and the Undergraduate Research Assistant for the GAI.


There is no savage beast in the jungle save that which has been made savage by man.—Patrick Hanley

Picture this: It’s halftime on game day and the University of Missouri’s mascot, Truman the Tiger, stands in stunned silence as he looks out over Faurot Field at only 1,959 football fans, their chants of “M-I-Z” going unanswered into the wind. At the University of Northern Iowa, TC Panther sits dejectedly on the bench at the UNI Dome, wondering why only 490 people are present at kickoff. On a recent weekday at South Hamilton Elementary School, where the UNI mascots visited just weeks ago, there are only a dozen students—not enough to fill even one classroom.

These numbers, while only hypothetical for people, have played out in a very real sense for tigers, whose populations have declined by 97%. As few as 3,200 tigers exist in the wild today, down from an estimated 100,000 who roamed free a century ago. There are now more tigers in captivity than in the wild, and those that remain free face the threat of extinction due to a combination of habitat loss, increasingly high tech poaching, and retaliation related to livestock predation.

Knowing this, TC Panther stepped up to support National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative and enlisted Truman the Tiger to do the same, both sporting Big Cats Initiative shirts to draw attention to the cause.  They joined forces with the Missouri Geographic Alliance and Mizzou Tigers for Tigers, a student organization that strives to ensure that “there will be wild tigers as long as there are Mizzou tigers”. Its members are a passionate, active group that fundraises, volunteers at tiger sanctuaries, raises awareness about tiger conservation, and advances educational and research opportunities for University of Missouri  students. Mizzou Tigers for Tigers has raised money for organizations such as Save the Tiger Fund, World Wildlife Fund, and Tiger Conservation Campaign.


Mizzou Tigers for Tigers is the second-oldest chapter of the National Tigers For Tigers Coalition, which also includes groups at Auburn, Clemson, Louisiana State, Princeton, and more. Its mission is to amplify school spirit to empower students and supporters of tiger mascot colleges to save tigers. The Tigers for Tigers  Coalition strives to educate  the public and generate  awareness about the plight of their mascots.

Please join us on social media using #BigCats to demonstrate your support of the Big Cats Initiative and Tigers for Tigers. Stand with TC, Truman, the 5th graders at South Hamilton Elementary, National Geographic, the Geographic Alliances in Iowa and Missouri, and the UNI and Mizzou communities. Let’s work to energize the 473,000 “tiger university” students in America and K-12 schools with tiger mascots,. “We all believe in the power of science, exploration, and storytelling to change the world.”


We thank Rhiannon Koehler and all the members of Mizzou Tigers for  Tigers for dedicating their time and expertise to this project. Thanks to Justin for his efforts. Thanks to Dr. Shannon White and the Missouri Geographic Alliance for their support.  

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