March conservation madness: endangered species mascots in the NCAA basketball tournament

WhySharksMatter at a previous Final 4 (in the midst of the Great Darwin Beard Challenge)

This weekend was Selection Sunday, the annual revealing of brackets for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the official start of “March Madness”. This year’s field of 68 teams features some incredible basketball talent, some heartwarming stories of individuals and teams overcoming adversity… and quite a few schools which use threatened or endangered species as mascots. As I am a huge college basketball fan in addition to being a conservationist, I couldn’t resist a quick tour.

South region:

#11 Colorado
Mascot: Buffaloes. Considered “Near Threatened” by the IUCN Red List, American bison are iconic of the U.S. conservation movement.
First game:  Thursday at 9:57 vs. the #6 UNLV Running Rebels
Expected outcome: Though 6/11 games are often popular picks for upsets, we can expect that not too long from now, Colorado’s fans will speak fondly about the time that their team used to roam the plains of the NCAA tournament in huge numbers.

#3 Baylor
Mascot: Bears (specifically black bears), which Baylor University keeps several of in captivity. According to the bear program’s website,  ” Texas [where Baylor University is located] has a population of 50 North American Black Bears, and is an endangered species within the state of Texas. Nationally, bears are not endangered and have a strong, viable population.”
First game:  Thursday at 7:27 vs the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (species not specified, though most North American jackrabbits are IUCN “Least Concern”.
Expected outcome: About what you’d expect from a fight between a bear and a rabbit (when running away isn’t an option).

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