story Assistant Professor Philip Johns, Guest Columnist
I learned that the Yale-NUS Student Government is considering such animals as chow dogs, dragons, manticores, and griffins, as candidates for the school mascot. These are fine possibilities, the stuff of legends—literally. But I feel we are missing a real opportunity.
We live in one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world. We are surrounded by some of the most amazing animals on the planet. We do not need a fantastical or domesticated creature as a mascot when we have incredible animals all around Singapore, and even on campus. If we want to pick a mascot that identifies Yale-NUS College, then we should pick one from our own backyard. Mascots should have either a physical tie or a thematic tie to a place or institution—or both. Ideally these connections are obvious. Among US teams, the Denver Broncos allude to a Wild West ethos, and wild horses still live in Colorado. The Philadelphia Eagles are an indirect reference to the Constitutional Convention there, and the Baltimore Ravens are a reference to Edgar Allen Poe. The worst mascots are ones that are so generic as to be meaningless, as the TV show “Community” demonstrated with their inoffensive Greendale Human Being.
We are rich with charismatic creatures in Singapore. We have flying lemurs gliding among our own treetops, hornbills flapping to our balconies, and otters frolicking in Gardens by the Bay. If we want a mascot that displays our colours, there are orange and blue malkohas and kingfishers in our parks. If those birds are not intimidating enough, we have Brahminy kites and white-bellied sea eagles soaring over campus (the latter which was once featured on the Singaporean $10,000 note). If we want a more cerebral bird, we could pick one of the many kinds of owls that live in Singapore. (My vote would go to the buffy fish-owl.
I understand the preoccupation with hybrid creatures, given Yale-NUS’s origins. But we have local hybrids, too: we could choose the Asian bearcat as a mascot, a giant civet with a prehensile tail that Stamford Raffles described for science. (Of course, he also described the cream-colored giant squirrel , so that might not be a vote in the bearcat’s favour.) Or for that matter, why not choose toddy cats , which still live here? What about a real cat? Lions may never have lived in Singapore, but leopards—both spotted and black —still prowl the forests of Peninsular Malaysia. Clouded leopards used to live in Singapore itself. Now there’s an appropriate mascot for a small liberal arts college: the clouded leopard is agile, intelligent, arboreal, the smallest of the big cats, and the one with the largest fangs for its body size.
My goal is not to sway people’s opinions to any particular mascot. But we have a wealth of animals that live in or near Singapore, many fantastic in their own right, and some with historic ties to Singapore. I suggest that we do not need man-made or mythical creatures for mascots when the real ones stretch the imagination as is. We should choose a mascot that already has ties to Yale-NUS, one that is readily identifiable with the college, ideally because of its proximity to the college itself, its ties to Singapore and its history, and its thematic relationship to an institution like ours.