FLORENCE — The University of North Alabama's female mascot, Una, an African lion who has roamed in the George H. Carroll Habitat since 2003, died Tuesday.
The 17-year-old lion and her brother, Leo III, have been popular on-campus mascots at the habitat with students and the public alike often stopping by to watch them frolic, roar or just enjoy a day sunning themselves.
“All of us at UNA are saddened by Una’s passing,” university President Ken Kitts said. “She and her brother, Leo, are part of the UNA family, and we mourn her death."
Dr. Brandon Fisher, who along with fellow veterinarian Dr. Matt Connolly have provided care for Una and Leo since they were cubs, said Una died peacefully with Leo and caregivers at her side.
“It has been a remarkable part of my career to be able to care for Una since she was a cub, to watch her grow and to see her very distinctive personality develop," Fisher said.
UNA officials said a memorial will be planned for Una later this year, and Una will be a prominent feature of the university’s Sesquicentennial celebration of the Year of the Woman in 2021.
Former UNA Vice President Dan Howard and his wife, Anne, who literally raised them as cubs in their home before releasing them to the habitat, are expected to remain in place as Leo's volunteer caregivers.
UNA has a tradition of housing a live lion on campus since Leo I lived in his enclosure beginning in 1974, officials said.
After Leo died in 1988, Leo II came to campus and was voted “Second Best Mascot” by Sports Illustrated in 1997. He died in 2002 and the Carroll Habitat was constructed for Leo III and Una.
Connolly said Una started to have some issues a couple of weeks ago, and they noticed she was having trouble breathing.
"Dr. Fisher got a fluid sample from her chest and it came back as a form of carcinoma and she was going down rapidly," he said. "Until that point, she'd been perfectly healthy. There was no real sign that this was going on — not one of these things that could have been prevented."
After talking with UNA officials, the group agreed it would be best to euthanize her rather than have her suffer through the disease, Connolly said.
"She'll be privately cremated and returned to UNA and at some point there will be a service," he said.
Connolly said the average life of a lion in captivity is 18 to 20 years.
He said Leo remains in good health.
“We have done a full health assessment on him, which did not reveal any abnormalities," Connolly said. "We fully expect him to mourn his sister and will continue to monitor his appetite and activity closely during this time.”
On Tuesday, Leo spent time going in and out of the habitat's cave. When he was outside, he spent most of the time looking toward the cave entrance, as though expecting Una to come out.