Meet the Mascots of March Madness: What are Arizona Wildcats?

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: March 21, 2022
Image Credit Rejean Bedard/Shutterstock.com
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Is a “wildcat” an actual animal or a group of animals? A wildcat can be a wild (feral) domestic cat or a group of wild cats like bobcats and lynx. The Arizona Wildcats started with an actual live bobcat as their mascot. Now they have Wilber and Wilma Wildcat as their Mascot couple. The women’s team has made it to the second round of the NCAA Championship while the Men’s team is in the Sweet 16.

The men’s team is the #1 seed in the South Division and the women’s team made it to the National Championship last year in 2021. So how tough and feisty are wildcats? Is a wildcat a good mascot? Let’s find out about the Arizona Wildcats.

What is a wildcat?

Deadliest Cats - Bobcat
The Bobcats’ success as predators has allowed them to become the most populous wildcat in North America, and also one of the deadliest cats.

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A wildcat is an actual species in the cat family. Wildcats (Felis silvestris) are native to Eurasia and Africa.

  • African wildcat or Egyptian wildcat (Felis silvestris libyca): The African wildcat is larger and heavier than a house cat with longer legs. It grows to be 28 inches long (without the tail) and 9 inches tall at the shoulder with an average weight of 7 ½ lbs. African wildcats have a tabbycat-look with orangish-brown fur and brown stripes. It is a nocturnal animal that eats birds, mice and other small rodents. . They live in the forests in Africa and Asia.
  • European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris):  The European wildcat has longer legs and a flatter head than a house cat. They can get to be 32 inches long (without the tail) and 16 inches tall with an average weight of 6-22lbs. Euopean wildcats are yellowish-brown with stripes and a tail that has black bands (like a raccoon). They are also a nocturnal animals that feeds on birds an small mammals. These wildcats can be found in Europe and western Asia.
European wildcats are larger than house cats and can get to be 22 lbs!

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What kind of wildcats are in the United States?

The term “wildcats” also applies to wild cats that live in the United States. There are wild domesticated cats that live in the wild and there are wild cats like bobcats and lynx. The Arizona Wildcats name refers to these type of wildcats like the bobcat. Arizona used to be home to jaguars, but they were hunted to extinction in the states and are only found as north as Mexico until recently. Several male jaguars have been spotted southeastern Arizona, they have wandered north from a group of 200 jaguars that live in Sonora, Mexico. Conservationists are anxious to see if the jaguar can start over in this part of the US. But the Arizona Wildcats got their mascot from the most common wildcat in Arizona, the bobcat.

What is a bobcat?

Are bobcats dangerous - Bobcat
Bobcats have tufts of hair on their ears and are much larger and heavier than house cats.

Laurie E Wilson/Shutterstock.com

  • Bobcat (Lynx rufus): Bobcats are larger than house cats, African wildcats and European wildcats. They can grow to be 40 inches long (without the tail) and 23 inches tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 33 lbs. They have much longer legs than a house cat and larger, broader paws. Their ears have characteristic tufts of hair that stick out from them. Bobcats live in much of the United States as well as southern Canada and most of Mexico. In Arizona they can be found throughout the state including the edges of some urban areas. Occasionally they make their way into residential areas in search of food. One bobcat live on the campus of the University of Arizona, Tuscon, that was the first mascot of the Arizona Wildcats!

Arizona had a live bobcat as its mascot!?!

Yes! Live mascots were used to build team spirit in the early 1900’s into the 1950’s. The first mascot at the University of Arizona was introduced on October 18, 1915 at a school assembly. The lucky President of the school, President Rufus Bernard Von KleinSmid had the honor of having a bobcat named after him, Rufus Arizona.

Who is the current mascot of the Arizona Wildcats?

Arizona Wildcats Stadium

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There are two, a married couple actually! Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat are the current mascots. Wilbur was introduced as a costumed human, in a full fur costume like a bobcat, on November 7, 1959. Wilma was introduced years later in March of 1986. In a marketing stroke of genius the two met on a blind date and later married before an epic University of Arizona vs Arizona State football game! They are apparently still happily married.

How did the Arizona Wildcats get their name?

The Arizona Wildcats got their name from a Los Angels Times columnist who referred to one of their tough games with the Occidental College Tigers wrote that the Arizona team “Showed the fight of Wildcats.”

What other college basketball teams have a Wildcat as their mascot?

What Eats Snakes
Bobcats are fierce and tough and have been known to even take on rattlesnakes! Now that is a tough mascot!

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The other teams that have the Wildcat as their mascot include the Villanova Wildcats, Davidson Wildcats and Kentucky Wildcats. The Kentucky Wildcats men’s team was highly favored to reach the Final Four but they were beat out by the Peacocks of a small school, St. Peter’s, from Jersey City, New Jersey!

Have the Arizona Wildcats ever won the NCAA National Championship?

  • Arizona Wildcats vs. Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Championship of 1997, who won? Wildcats vs. Wildcats: In the 1997 National Championship of the NCAA Men’s tournament the two wildcats faced off. Kentucky was favored and the defending national champions but the Arizona team fought hard. At the end of regular play the game was tied
  • Arizona Wildcats vs. Stanford Cardinals Women’s Championship of 2021, who won? Wildcats vs. Cardinals: The Arizona Wildcats beat the favored UConn Huskies to take on the Stanford Cardinals in the Final. In a hard fought game the Wildcats came so close but lost to the Cardinals 53-54. In 2022 they have a good chance of advancing but could face the number one ranked South Carolina Gamecocks (a rooster bred for fighting). A wildcat in the wild would have no troubles beating a rooster and enjoying it for dinner!

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness and suggesting actions we can all do to help wildlife. As a former elementary school teacher I have a love for learning and teaching. My goal is to get kids fired-up about animals. Learning about the animals we share this earth with makes life better. When I am not writing I am living the good life with my husband and six kids (we are down to two that are still at home...and our giant labradoodle, Tango!).

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