MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The University of Memphis’s Bengal Tiger mascot TOM III has died at the age of 12.
According to the University of Memphis, TOM III was euthanized at his compound Friday morning after suffering from an illness all week. The university says he will be taken to the Memphis Zoo for an autopsy.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of TOM III,” said University of Memphis President M. David Rudd. “He was a majestic animal who brought so much joy to all of Tiger Nation. TOM III had some of the absolute best care, and I want to thank all of the people, especially the Highland Hundred, who have supported TOM III as well as the original TOM and TOM II for nearly 50 years. The TOMs have truly been wonderful ambassadors for the University of Memphis and will be dearly missed.”
TOM III’s death comes three weeks after his 12th birthday, the university says.
TOM III was introduced at a press conference in November of 2008. His last appearance was the 2019 AAC Championship Game.
“We are heartbroken with the passing of TOM III,” said University of Memphis Director of Athletics Laird Veatch. “I will never forget his presence at home games and all the smiling faces he brought to so many people. I know TOM III received phenomenal care, and I want to thank everyone, especially Scott Forman. Scott and TOM III had an unbreakable bond. Special thanks to the Highland Hundred and our alumni who have completely provided for all three of our TOMs’ needs for nearly 50 years. It is a sad day for all Memphis Tigers.”
Scott Forman, TOM III’s handler, posted a statement on TOM III’s death on Twitter.
The university has used a Bengal Tiger named TOM as its mascot since 1972. There have been three “TOMS” in all,” but school funding has never gone to the tiger.
The booster group the Highland Hundred has taken care of all three “TOM” tigers through club dues and donations. Some members can even remember the initial process of finding a trained tiger and getting it on the field.
“I was at the zoo and TOM I was there as a cub,” said David Jackson, treasurer of the Highland Hundred. “I was able to reach through the bars and pet him. And I’ve had a special bond with the tigers ever since.”
The university says the tradition has come to an end with TOM III’s passing.
“It breaks my heart,” said Todd Adams, president of Highland Hundred. “It’s like a punch in the gut, and it’s something that . . . he’s always been there for me.”
They didn’t say why, but just weeks ago, the non-profit group In Defense of Animals called on the school to stop using a live animal during games.
Students and fans that spoke with WREG had mixed reactions to changing a proud tradition.
“I understand both sides of the spectrum,” said University of Memphis student John Hopkins. “I understand why they would take it away.”
“For them to take that out, it would make history and change it for the worst. That’s our mascot!” said Tigers fan Kingston Briscoe. “I think they should reconsider the whole idea of not bringing the tiger back.”
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