A home typically is given a fresh look before a new resident moves in. But Mike VII’s home at LSU got more than a fresh coat of paint.
With about $950,000 in donated money from the Tiger Athletic Foundation, the 15,000-square-foot tiger habitat next to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center will have numerous upgrades, some to make life better for Mike, some to make caring for him easier on LSU.
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The addition most likely to please both Mike and his fans is a roughly 100-square-foot synthetic rock that uses glycol to stay cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather, said Emmett David, an associate athletic director in charge of the habitat renovations. Because Baton Rouge gets a lot more of the former, the rock’s temperature will give Mike a comfortable perch in full view of those who come to see him.
As for the rock’s location, the new tiger mascot can thank his predecessor.
“Mike VI stayed at this one little spot, and if you look back through photos, he enjoyed this one spot," David said. "He would always put his back toward the waterfall, because he knew it was protected back there, and he kept his face toward the glass. I think that was a natural way of protecting himself.”
Keeping Mike comfortable has long been a priority. The night house is air conditioned, which is unusual for big cat facilities, David said.
“It’s not that big of a deal because a majority of his time is spent outside in the habitat,” he said. “Some exhibits say they’re in the wild, they’re used to it, get over it. We don’t treat ours like that. It’s not the normal to be in an air-conditioned night house. That’s above and beyond.”
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Speaking of above, the central support column that holds up the netting over the habitat has been redesigned to look like a tree, creating a more pleasing aesthetic, David said.
The pond and waterfall also have been refurbished. Longer-lasting LED lights have replaced older light bulbs that went out more often and were difficult to change. Ground lights have been taken out, replaced by LED lights on the faux tree for much the same reason, David said.
Visitors won’t see some of the improvements. The inside of Mike’s night house has been coated with a heavy-duty epoxy flooring to make it easier to clean. The coating has a texture designed to keep Mike from slipping when it’s wet, but one not so abrasive that it wears at his foot pads.
Azeo “Ace” Torre, an LSU grad in New Orleans whose company, Torre Design Consortium, has designed zoo habitats across the country, consulted on the project, David said. The deadline for having the habitat ready for occupancy was Aug. 15. David said some landscaping work may continue up until Monday, when classes begin.
Although LSU is seeking accredited sanctuary status for the habitat, the renovations are unrelated to that effort, said Ginger Guttner, communications manager for the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, which oversees Mike's care.
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LSU announced Aug. 1 that it has located the tiger that could become Mike VII. The plan is to keep the tiger quarantined in the night house for about a week, where he will not be visible to the public, while he acclimates to the environment. If that goes well, the tiger will be released into his yard and officially become the university's new live mascot.
LSU said it would announce in advance when the tiger will be in his yard for the first time. David has a prediction.
“Mike goes to class the same day the students do,” he said. Classes start Aug. 21.