Clyde the mountain lion retires as UCCS mascot

By Carol McGraw Updated: December 6, 2013 at 6:36 pm • Published: December 5, 2013 | 3:50 pm 0

The wildest faculty member at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has been laid off.

Clyde, a mountain lion who on occasion taught environmental studies, was dropped because students didn't flock to his classes.

Instead, officials say UCCS is going to put more effort into other student environmental education,including a trail system on UCCS property.

"Our new student activity programming isn't conducive to mountain lions," said Susan Szpyrka, vice chancellor for administration and finance.

If truth be known, seven year-old Clyde didn't have much tenure, anyway. He was more like a visiting professor, coming in occasionally from his home at Serenity Springs Wildlife Center in Calhan.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. You see, the university UCCS sports teams are called the Mountain Lions.

Szpyrka said that in 2010 the university filed an educational academic plan and syllabus with the state Division of Wildlife so Clyde so could be exhibited on campus. That agreement has been terminated.These educational agreements come and go. For example, the university used to have one with Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Clyde was also "adopted" by the university. Serenity Springs, which has more than 100 abandoned big cats and other animals, has a program where people can make donations for care of their favorites. The university set up jars around campus so students could donate to the mountain lion.

Clyde was never there for entertainment, which is forbidden by the state. His appearances had to be educational. "When he was on exhibit, we had faculty experts in recreation and sustainability provide information on the importance of helping the environment so these and other animals can thrive," Szpyrka explained.

Clyde was never in a classroom. His appearances were outside, and he remained caged during the few events he attended. UCCS paid about $500 a trip to transport Clyde from Calhan to campus and that was paid for in part by donations. Clyde wasn't a great rainmaker.

"We didn't find that we were getting the response we hoped for," Szpyrka noted. "We are going in a different direction in student activity planning."

A student referendum diverted activity fees to improving the recreation center and the trail system. Some of the trails are "social" in nature, meaning they were created by continual use, rather than planned, Szpyrka explained.

The university is going to close many of those and allow foot traffic in designated areas. It eventually will put up environmental educational information signs along some of trails.

Julie Walker, spokeswoman for Serenity Springs, said that Clyde didn't particularly like the job, anyway. It sometimes took an hour to coax him into the cage and trailer for the journey to campus. He spent most of the time catnapping.

Clyde had been a house cat of a Montana couple, who gave him to Serenity Springs when they could no longer pay for his upkeep. The Montana owners had him declawed, so he could never be released to the wild.

"He's a big boy," Walker said. Clyde weighs about 200 pounds. Most lions are a comparatively petite 90 to 140 pounds.

"He is very sweet and likes to take walks on a leash. His den at the Calhan center includes a climbing platform and a run so he can play. But he is pretty lazy and likes to lounge around," Walker said.

Clyde will still be a teacher.

On tours at Serenity Springs, guides stop at his enclosure and talk about the need for environmental care, and about safety in the outdoors, including what to do if approached by a cougar.

Clyde is much more a crowd pleaser in his own element as opposed to the ivory tower. He meows and purrs and makes all sorts of sounds.

"He's a real talker," Walker said.

Meanwhile, the mountain lion mascot will endure at UCCS even though there won't be any real ones giving lectures.

"We use a human in mountain lion costume," Szpyrka said.

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Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371. Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook: Carol McGraw

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