The University of Houston and Houston Zoo are mourning the death of Shasta VI, the school's 11-year-old cougar mascot who passed away Thursday night according to a press release issued by university officials.
Shasta's death follows months of treatment for a degenerative spinal disease, according to a remembrance posted to the Houston Zoo's site on Friday. Zoo officials said the decision was made to euthanize the beloved local fixture after additional health issues were discovered that negated Shasta's chances of living out his remaining days comfortably.
"For several months, the Zoo’s veterinary team has been treating him for a progressive spinal disease which has rapidly deteriorated over the past few days," Houston Zoo staff wrote. "Over the course of treatment, Shasta was also found to have declining kidney function, which is common in older felines. The animal care and health teams made a comprehensive assessment of his overall wellbeing and made the difficult decision to euthanize him on Thursday when it became clear that he would not recover."
The University of Houston's tradition of a live cougar mascot began with Shasta I in 1947. Shastas II through V lived on-campus in an enclosure at the edge of Lynn Eusan Park (the Chron article's statement that the cougars "lived primarily at the Houston Zoo" is false and yet another example of poor journalistic standards on their part). I visited Shastas III, IV and V many a time when I was on campus as a child. Shasta was also present at UH football games in the Astrodome.
The tradition of keeping a live Cougar on campus ended in 1989, when Shasta V was euthanized due to kidney failure and animal rights activists pressured UH administration into not procuring a replacement (although it was still a big topic when I began classes there in the fall of 1991). A partnership between the Houston Zoo and the Houston Alumni Association allowed an orphaned cub to become Shasta VI, and for the tradition of live UH mascots to resume (albeit off-campus), in 2012:
Shasta VI arrived at the Houston Zoo in 2012 at the age of five weeks after his mother was shot and killed illegally by a hunter in Washington State. Washington Fish & Wildlife agents were able to locate the orphaned cougar, who had little chance of survival in the wild following the death of his mother. Shasta VI was relocated to the Houston Zoo where he became the University of Houston's first live mascot since the 1989 and lived alongside the zoo's female cougar, Haley.
Shasta VI was the first male Shasta; his five predecessors were all female. As of right now there is no word as to whether there will be a Shasta VII.