Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The time a lion lived down the street

Leo II in 1998
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter
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In the wake of the recent death of LSU's tiger mascot, Mike, I'm reflecting on my time living in Alabama and a real-life lion lived near my neighborhood. It was 1997 and my wife and I had just been married a few months when I got my first reporter/anchor job in Florence, Alabama.

Florence is home to the University of North Alabama. The mascot for the university is the lion. Leo II was an adult lion who lived on campus in a cage. When we first moved to town and learned more about the area, everyone was sure to let us know about Leo. UNA claims to be the only university in the country to house live lion mascots.

Leo II was named the second best mascot by Sports Illustrated in 1997 and lived on campus from 1988 until his death in 2000. The original Leo was on campus from 1974 until his death in 1988. Leo III and Una replaced Leo II and remain on the Florence campus.

Visiting Leo II on a chilly day
My wife and I would walk up to campus and visit Leo from time to time. Our dog at the time was just as fascinated by the big cat as we were. Whenever we had out of town visitors, a trip to the UNA campus and Leo's cage was always a part of the day. He'd get our attention by letting out a roar that could be heard from our apartment which was nearly a mile from his cage.

Leo III & Una
Courtesy: UNA
I recently discovered Leo III and UNA have a much bigger enclosure and the campus has set up a live camera to keep tabs on the siblings. It's a great memory and I'm happy to be able to reconnect with a region where I started my career in journalism nearly 20 years ago.

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