Education Risk Management

Insuring Feathers, Fur and Football Tradition

Using live animals as sports mascots requires a focus on risk mitigation.
By: | July 18, 2016 • 5 min read

Lions, tigers and bears. Oh my!

Not to mention the buffalo, a ram, horses, a falcon, an owl and various dogs. The animals that pump up sports fans at universities across the United States range from a gamecock and an eagle to a bulldog and a bluetick coonhound.

“There are quite a few of them out there,” said Vincent Morris, executive director of the higher education practice at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“It’s the tradition and pageantry of it all. The pounding hooves before a football game, the raptor soaring around the stadium, the tiger growling … .

“Mascots are so different,” he said.

“What one does with a University of Georgia bulldog is different from what one does with a University of Colorado buffalo.”

But they all need to be insured for mortality as well as potential property damage or bodily injury. Plus, the animals need to be cared for, whether it’s ensuring they have proper nutrition and living quarters to making sure they are humanely and adequately restrained from harming fans.

Universities with mascots also must accept that there will be objections by animal rights groups.

Vincent Morris, executive director, higher education practice, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co

Vincent Morris, executive director, Higher education practice, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co

“Nothing says ‘Go, team!’ less than an unhappy animal, and with athletes and coaches so prone to raising a ruckus on and off the field, there’s no reason to subject a real animal to the stress of being a mascot,” writes People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on its website.

“There’s a lot of pressure from people who say we shouldn’t have animals living like that,” Morris said. “There’s a kind of movement in the country that is concerned about caged animals … not in their natural habitat.”

He noted that most universities do not have live mascots. Of about 3,500 schools, fewer than 50 use live animals for mascots.

“When you are talking about risk management,” Morris said, “you are talking about loss control, keeping bad things from happening  — and knowing how to pay for them when they do. You don’t want to have a buffalo rampaging through the marching band.

“You have to worry about the animal being stolen or escaping,” he said.

“There have been pranks. LSU’s tiger has been released or kidnapped on more than one occasion. Arkansas’ razorbacks have gotten out on more than one occasion and killed other animals.”

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“Normally,” said Mitchel Kalmanson of the Lester Kalmanson Agency, which specializes in rare and unusual risks, especially animals, “commercial animal liability is broken down into either domestic or exotic.”

Domestic animal liability would cover, for example, dogs (mascots for Eastern New Mexico University, Texas A&M, University of Georgia, University of Tennessee and Yale), horses (Southern Methodist University, University of Oklahoma and University of Southern California),  or goats (Naval Academy).

Exotic coverage would be necessary for a bear (Baylor University), razorback (University of Arkansas), African lion (University of North Alabama), buffalo (University of Colorado, Boulder) or tiger (Louisiana State University).

“I insure [mascot owners] all the time,” Kalmanson said, noting that he also owns 18 “big cats” — tigers, lions and leopards — that are hired to appear at fairs, schools and special events.

“Sometimes mascot animals live with handlers,” Morris said.

“Some live on a farm nearby. Some live with a designated family or sometimes, athletic staff.”

Some like Mike, a Siberian Bengal tiger, lives in a specially built 15,000-square foot habitat with a waterfall, stream and foliage on the campus of Louisiana State University, according to “Hear Me Roar: Should Universities Use Live Animals as Mascots,” a 2011 article by Jessica Baranko for the “Marquette University Sports Law Review.”

Baylor University’s bear mascots, all named “Judge” followed by a surname, also live in a campus facility with a waterfall, pond, cave, rocks and foliage. Students call it “The Pit,” Baranko writes.

Usually, Kalmanson said, the university is not the owner of the mascot animals, but is added “as an additional insured on the owner’s liability policy or commercial animal owners’ liability policy.”

Mitchel Kalmanson, principal, Lester Kalmanson Agency

Mitchel Kalmanson, principal, Lester Kalmanson Agency

“You want to make sure the owner’s liability policy is exhausted before it goes into the university’s,” Kalmanson said.

Nonetheless, it’s important for universities to have written guidelines and procedures related to the mascots. They should ensure the owner has the proper state, federal and local permits and licenses to own and exhibit the animal, and ensure proper nutrition and medical care is provided.

When animals are transported, the trailer or truck must be properly ventilated, he said. Inside, the animal’s enclosure, for a big cat, for example, should be made of Lexan, a bulletproof polycarbonate, and steel instead of a less secure wire cage. Plexiglas, he noted, will crack and break if used for big cats.

When the animals are taken onto the field, handlers — and back-up handlers for cases of emergency — must be properly trained and make sure the buffalo, for example, is tethered to a safety cable to keep it from jumping into the crowd, Kalmanson said.

Animals should be brought to the fields before actual games so they can become used to the area, lights and noise. There should be an “exit strategy,” in case something goes wrong and the handlers need to move the animal to a secure area, he said. Sedation equipment should also be available.

Policy deductibles can range from $2,500 to $10,000 or more per claim, depending on the “exotic nature of the animal” and whether it is exhibited or whether it is galloped, for example, down the field.

Too often, he said, universities do not have set guidelines, and handlers or families “take too many shortcuts” about safety procedures. “There’s nobody looking over their shoulder saying they should follow the guidelines. There should be standard operating procedures available.”

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That’s good for the animal as well as the reputational brand of the university, he said.

Kalmanson said liability coverage should be for a minimum of $1 million per occurrence aggregate. Deductibles can range from $2,500 to $10,000 or more per claim, depending on the “exotic nature of the animal” and whether it is exhibited or whether it is galloped, for example, down the field.

If properly written, it will include coverage for bodily injuries or property damage caused by the animals. The policy would not, however, be triggered if PETA or some other animal rights group filed a lawsuit alleging mistreatment.

“There’s not much recourse but to defend that on its own merits,” Kalmanson said. “That would not be a covered hazard.”

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

Risk Matrix: Presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]