University of North Alabama’s Leo III, beloved lion, passes away

University of North Alabama’s Leo III, beloved lion, passes away

FLORENCE, Ala. (PRESS RELEASE) – Leo III, the third lion to call the University of North Alabama home, passed away peacefully on the evening of Thursday, May 2, after a brief illness at the George H. Carroll Lion Habitat on the UNA campus. He was 21.

“The University campus mourns the loss of Leo III,” said Dr. Ken Kitts, UNA’s President. “Dena and I have treasured our time as his neighbors and hearing him roar. He will forever be a part of the UNA family, an ambassador, and a focal point of our historic and storied campus. Leo III will be deeply missed by the Kitts family, the campus, and UNA supporters across the globe.”

Leo III was born in 2002 in New Hampshire. He and his twin sister, Una, who passed in June of 2020, moved into the George H. Carroll Lion Habitat in 2003.

Since his arrival on campus, Leo III has become a beloved and cherished member of the UNA family, and his habitat has often been called a one-animal exhibit. As a younger male lion, Leo III and Una would often make appearances off campus, at football games and other UNA-related events. He is the third African lion to live on campus, succeeding Leo I and Leo II, both of whom have memorials outside the Guillot University Center.

“Leo’s passing was peaceful, and his caregiver, Brandon Kutz, was by his side,” said Dr. Brandon Fisher, one of the two local veterinarians who have provided care for Leo III throughout his life. “It has been an honor to care for Leo III and his sister, Una. Being able to watch them grow from cubs into the majestic big cats they were has been the highlight of my career as a veterinarian.”

A special memorial for Leo III will be planned to coincide with his birthday in November. In the meantime, the Habitat will be available to those who would like to leave tributes or memorials to Leo III or Una. Dr. Dan and Annemarie Howard were the Lions’ long-time caregivers; they passed away in 2022 and 2024, respectively.

The University has maintained a tradition of housing lions on campus since Leo I moved into his enclosure beginning in 1974. The tradition dates back to 1949 and the creation of a cartoon, “Leo, the Florence State Teachers College Lion,” by a student.

After the passing of Leo I in 1988, Leo II came to campus and was voted “Second Best Mascot” by Sports Illustrated in 1997. Leo II died in 2000.

“Leo has never been the second-best mascot; he has always been the king of the jungle,” said the Howards in a statement at the time. “He and his sister, Una, were a part of our lives and the life of the University of North Alabama for almost 20 years, and it has been our privilege to have been with them on their journeys on this earth.”

The University has created a special memorial video of Leo III’s life available here. We encourage those who wish to do so to share their stories, memories, and photos. They will be uploaded as part of a message board curated by the social media team on for visitors from around the world to see and read as part of our ongoing tribute to the majestic lives of Leo III and his sister, Una.

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Categories: Local News