By Jamie Crockett

Photo of a tiger taken at night by a device designed to monitor for tigers.

Camera-trap photo taken in Chitwan National Park in Nepal in 2011 as part of a tiger research project by School of Natural Resources doctoral student Hemanta Kafley advised by Matt Gompper, professor of wildlife conservation.
Photo courtesy of Matt Gompper.

Tiger ears, tails and face paint are a common sight during major sporting events in Columbia. As fans get excited for games, they flock to Truman the Tiger for pictures, high-fives and hugs.

But Truman’s family is in danger.

The wild tiger population is dwindling due to pressing issues such as habitat loss and poaching. The Global Tiger Forum estimates there are only 3,900 tigers left roaming in the wild.

Now, the University of Missouri is showing its tiger pride by joining Clemson University, Auburn University and Louisiana State University as members of the newly established U.S. Tiger University Consortium. The group aims to address the shrinking big cat population through research, educational opportunities and awareness.

These schools all feature a tiger as their mascot, but what sets Mizzou apart is that student involvement in the effort started here. In 1999, Mizzou students formed the nation’s first tiger mascot conservation program, “Mizzou Tigers for Tigers,” which eventually led to a national coalition in 2007 recognized by the World Wildlife Fund. The chapter’s current president, Shannon McKinley, is organizing multiple fundraising events to support tiger habitats and to get more Mizzou students engaged in the effort.

Shibu Jose, director of the MU School of Natural Resources, believes the university is positioned to contribute tiger ecology and habitat management expertise to the consortium’s collective efforts.

Three students stand with their arms around each other and the Mizzou mascot, Truman the Tiger

The student-run organization, Mizzou Tigers for Tigers, is committed to protecting Mizzou’s mascot by protecting the wild and captive tigers in the world. They host awareness events on campus and volunteer at area zoos and sanctuaries. Photo courtesy of Mizzou Tigers for Tigers.

“Mizzou is the perfect university to play a role in tiger conservation,” Jose said. “Researchers from multiple areas of expertise — wildlife, veterinary medicine, ecology and sociology — all can contribute to the effort. Being involved in the consortium will allow Mizzou students and faculty to significantly contribute to saving this majestic species.”

The World Wildlife Fund has identified several tiger species’ conservation status — with Truman and his immediate Bengal family appearing on the list as endangered.

“It’s not enough to cheer at sporting games,” McKinley said. “Mizzou is now rallying on and off the field in support of our tigers!”