To the relief of the UC Irvine community, especially ASUCI and the athletics department, UCI’s giant inflatable anteater was anonymously returned unharmed to the front of the administrative offices of the athletics department in Crawford Hall on the morning of Nov. 6.
ASUCI, who owns the large 12-by-15 foot blue-and-gold anteater made out of a parachute-like material, loans the anteater out to various departments around UCI who use it to highlight various special events.
On Oct. 17, the athletics department borrowed it for use in front of the Bren Events Center to welcome visitors to Midnight Magic 2003, showcasing this season’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.
The athletics department overlooked the possibility of the giant anteater being a target for theft, so it was left unattended in front of the Bren.
Only at the end of the night when they went to retrieve the anteater did the athletics department realize the anteater was missing.
Worth over $6,000, something had to be done to get the giant anteater back.
‘We worked with ASUCI to get the word out,’ said Blake Sasaki, assistant athletic director of marketing for the department of athletics.
ASUCI and the athletics department placed ads in the New University asking for the return of the anteater with no questions asked, hoping that the thieves would read the ads and return the anteater without fear of repercussions.
‘We realized it was a prank,’ said Lance MacLean, associate executive director of the department of student government. ‘The purpose of the ads and the offer was that we realized that college students sometimes have fun and then have some remorse afterwards. So we wanted to offer it for no questions asked. We just wanted to get it back and that is what happened.’
Sasaki concurred with MacLean and offered that the responsible party did not necessarily mean any harm.
‘It’s just a couple of college kids being college kids,’ Sasaki said. ‘It showed up in front of our office one morning, so obviously the ads worked.’
Fortunately, the anteater was in good shape after missing for three weeks.
‘It was in fine condition. It was a little dirty, but we cleaned it,’ Sasaki said.
ASUCI and the departments that borrow the anteater will now be more careful and attentive to the anteater because there is no guarantee that a stolen anteater will be returned.
‘It is difficult to lock it in place, so I think we’ll just have a little bit more security in terms of physically watching it,’ MacLean said.
There is a general history of missing anteaters at UCI, but each incident has concluded without repercussions to the responsible party and without damage to the anteater.
‘This has happened before,’ MacLean said. ‘It happened with our older smaller anteater, and we offered the same kind of immunity and it was returned.’
MacLean went on to explain that in the spring of 1994 a similar situation with the mascot occurred. The anteater was stolen under similar conditions and returned unharmed by an anonymous source.
‘We held a dance in the Student Center and inflated it and at the end of the evening as everyone was cleaning up, all of a sudden they realized it was gone,’ MacLean said.
‘And again, we did some ads and in that instance we got an anonymous phone call that said to check the third story of the parking structure. We went to look and there it was,’ MacLean added.
Some students were unaware that the anteater had been missing at all.
‘I had no idea that we have inflatable anteaters,’ said Sawrav Mukhreji, a fourth-year biological sciences major. ‘I wish that we had a real anteater as a mascot.’
However, some students who were aware that the anteater was missing shared the same sentiments as MacLean and Sasaki regarding the strange situation.
‘I was shocked at first,’ said second-year social ecology major and member of the UCI Cheer Squad JoAnna Nepomuceno. ‘How could anyone steal it? It’s huge! And what would anyone want with a giant inflatable anteater?’
In any case, the anteater is home.
‘The fortunate thing is that it was returned,’ Sasaki said.
Nepomuceno added that the incident of anteater theft and its ultimate return will hopefully instill a sense of pride in UCI’s mascot.
‘The inflatable anteater is a giant symbol of our UCI spirit,’ Nepomuceno said. ‘Hopefully now that it’s back, people will take more pride in our school.’