University of North Alabama loses lion mascot Leo III following brief illness

North Alabama mascot, the lion Leo III
North Alabama mascot, the lion Leo III

The University of North Alabama recently revealed that its mascot Leo III the Lion had died after a brief illness at the age of twenty-one years at the George H. Carroll Lion Habitat on campus.

Leo III succeeded Leo I and Leo II in 2003 after being acquired from a New Hampshire wildlife refuge.

“Leo III and his late sister Una were important members of the UNA family for many years. We are greatly saddened by Leo’s passing,” the university said in a statement.

North Alabama President Dr. Ken Kitts paid his respects to the deceased lion after the announcement.

“The University campus mourns the loss of Leo III,” said Dr. Ken Kitts. “Dena and I have treasured our time as his neighbors and hearing him roar. He will forever be a part of the UNA family, an ambassador, and a focal point of our historic and storied campus. Leo III will be deeply missed by the Kitts family, the campus, and UNA supporters across the globe.”

Lion mascot Leo III's handler died three months ago

The death of North Alabama's mascot Leo III comes after the death of its caregiver Anne Howard aka Mrs. Anne in January.

She was the main handler of the mascot alongside his sister Una, and she helped to make the transition from their birthplace in New Hampshire to the George H. Carroll Lion Habitat in 2003.

During an interview with "Alabama Journey," Howard explained how she lived with the lions when they had first been born showing her long ties with the mascots.

“It was love at first sight,” said Mrs. Howard. “I’ve known them since they were six weeks old. My husband, G. Daniel, a retired UNA vice president, asked me one night over dinner what my thoughts were on keeping lions in our house. I said, ‘Sure, and we can have an elephant in the garage.’ I thought he was kidding. They ended up living with us for three months because I had to bottle-feed them every three hours.”

After her death in January, the university expressed the community's sadness at the immense loss in a statement.

"In recent years, and after the passing of her husband in 2022, former Vice President for University Advancement Dr. Dan Howard, she has worked with volunteers and local veterinarians to ensure Leo III’s ongoing health and vitality," read the statement. "Leo III is doing well, and his care continues to be overseen by volunteers. The campus community mourns [Howard's] passing."

Miss Howard had one of the most unique stories involving a program's mascot in college sports history.

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