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UNA to consider bringing live lions back to campus

Upon the death of the University of North Alabama’s lion, Leo III, on May 2, a student asked, “Will there be another Lion friend to come?” echoing the thoughts of many in the UNA community.

Last week, the university released a statement regarding bringing live lions back to campus, including the creation of a committee by President Dr. Ken Kitts to study the idea. Leo III and his sister, Una, who died in 2020, came to UNA in 2003.

“Over the next several months, we will evaluate how best we can honor Leo and the other lions that have been part of our community,” the statement said. “We will also evaluate how best we can continue to stay connected to this magnificent species. We will continue to keep the UNA community updated as this process moves forward. But, for now, we thank everyone who has helped care for Leo and our other lions over the years.

“With the evaluative process, President Kitts is currently working to appoint a committee that will include animal care experts and representatives of key stakeholder groups.”

Should UNA decide to bring lions back to campus, the full process would take about five years. Updates to requirements from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums would mean the university would need two lions and it would have to expand the George H. Carroll Lion Habitat.

Director of University Media & Public Relations Michelle Eubanks said the process to become AZA certified is strenuous.

“It can take 12 to 18 months or longer. The AZA-certified habitat would also have to be 10,000 square feet,” Eubanks said.

With these changes, it would take approximately five years before live lions would return to UNA’s campus, she said. Additionally, the cost would be between $4.8 million and $7.2 million to return live lions to campus.

No timeline for the decision has been set.

In November, the university will host a public celebration for longtime caretakers Ann and Dan Howard, and Una and Leo III. Dan Howard died in January 2022, and Ann Howard died in January 2024.

Click here to read the community’s memories of Leo III.

Courtesy of 256 Today

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