After sending repeated requests to Kennesaw State University, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has posted an action alert on its website where concerned people can send a letter petitioning the university to ground the live owl.
The controversial bird is a great horned owl, which is expected to grow to six pounds with a five-foot wing span and live up to 60 years.
KSU’s live mascot Sturgis, named after Horace Sturgis who served as the institution’s first president, made its debut in the second annual “Flight Night” in October.
In an announcement by PETA about the effort to end Sturgis’ public career, the group said an arena packed with yelling fans, flashing lights and a booming sound system is no place for a solitary, nocturnal owl.
“We should know better than to exploit animals for cheap amusement — especially at an institution of higher learning,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA is calling on Kennesaw State to teach students the important lesson that animals belong in their natural habitats, not in a basketball arena.”
In a letter sent to PETA in October, Athletic Director Vaughn Williams said everyone at KSU is fully committed to Sturgis’ safety and well-being.
He added the university and Sturgis’ trainer would never put the owl in harm’s way.
Live animal versus costumed mascots
The idea to have a live mascot began a few years ago, and the discussion was renewed when the school’s first football program was announced. KSU’s inaugural football season kicks off in fall 2015.
The final decision was made by Williams and KSU President Dan Papp.
Live mascots can be a popular symbol of school pride. At Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, the school’s live eagle mascot, Freedom, flies across the field at graduations and sporting events.
Some live mascots have been a traditions for decades. Near the main gate of Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia in Athens are marble vaults were the remains of past mascots are enshrined.
The Georgia Bulldogs’ mascot, Uga the VII, died in 2009 at 4 years old of a congenital heart condition. His predecessor Uga the VI, died of a similar issue the year before.
The deaths promoted the Georgia chapter of PETA to ask the next pure white English bulldog be a robot. But for the past two years, another bulldog named Russ has served as the college’s live mascot.
A year before KSU adopted Sturgis, the university unveiled a new look for their costumed mascot, Scrappy the Owl.
PETA is in favor of costumed mascots.
Raising, training a live mascot
According to PETA’s announcement this week, birds at sporting events have slammed into windows, broken loose from their handlers and even been kicked by players.
Sturgis, who was hatched in New York, lives at Winding Wood Ranch in Commerce, about 80 miles northeast of Kennesaw, under the care of bird trainer Daniel Walthers.
Walthers is no stranger to training animals. Rise and Conquer, the Baltimore Ravens’ two live mascots, are a product of his teaching.
At the time Sturgis was first introduced to the KSU community, Walthers said a live mascot’s training includes getting the animal used to things that are commonplace for sports fans, like pompoms, blow horns and fireworks.
In the October letter to PETA, Williams said he hopes the mascot becomes more than just a symbol of the university, but an educational tool.
“Many within our community will be introduced to a species they will not normally encounter,” Williams said. “The spotlight on Sturgis will contribute to the public’s appreciation for Sturgis and other owls, presenting opportunities both to raise awareness about owls and to raise funds to help replace owl and bird habitats that have been destroyed by human developments.”