From bearcats to tigers, a significant number of Oklahoma schools boast animal-themed mascots to symbolically represent their institutes, and these mascots have the potential to connect fans with wildlife conservation. An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden were recently published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Sciences, on their work regarding animal-themed sports team names and mascots in Oklahoma high schools and the potential to use these mascots for conservation education about vulnerable species. Bringing together expertise in ecology, conservation and marketing allowed this team to better understand why some species are chosen more than others to represent high school sports teams in the state. Potential reasons included whether the animal chosen can intimidate opponents, the uniqueness of animal chosen compared to surrounding schools and potential cultural connections. To read the article in full, click here.

Research found that of the 475 Oklahoma high schools with named sports team, 272 of them are animal-themed. Vertebrates were more common than invertebrates, terrestrial species more common than aquatic species, and non-native species more common than native species. The most common animal overall was the tiger, followed by the domestic dog. For animals native to Oklahoma the most common mammal species is the bison and the most common bird species is the bald eagle. Only one school had an amphibian (American bullfrog) and only one school had a reptile (Western diamondback rattlesnake). The most common invertebrates were wasps and hornets. Over 40 Oklahoma high schools have a species that is considered endangered or critically endangered that represents their sports team.

Additionally, the article discusses the OKC Zoo’s School Mascot Challenge, a statewide program hosted from February 1, 2022 through May 1, 2023, created to raise conservation awareness among Oklahoma schools with animal mascots. The program provided guidance to sports administrators on how they can connect their existing sports team names and/or mascots to conservation.

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