A day after LSU announced Mike the Tiger has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, an animal advocacy group called on the university to make this tiger the university’s last live mascot kept in captivity on the campus.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urged LSU to end the tradition of keeping a live tiger on campus and carting the tiger around Tiger Stadium during football games.
“People go to LSU football games because they want to see top college athletes playing the best football in the country, not because there’s a caged tiger sitting on the sidelines,” said the letter signed by Lewis Crary, of PETA, and Cheyenne Fouts, an LSU animal advocate. “Orcas don’t belong in tanks, elephants don’t belong in the circus, and tigers do not belong in stadiums. In his sickly condition, Mike VI should not be wheeled out to games this coming season.”
LSU, however, lets Mike decide whether he will attend the football games, and he has received national attention for being less willing to do so than his predecessors. Mike can decline to go to the games if he doesn’t enter his mobile carrier.
Mike attended one game in 2015 and none in 2014.
The PETA letter said captive tigers “are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them.”
“They live in perpetual states of confinement, discomfort, and stress and, at LSU games, are subjected to a constant barrage of disorienting lights and activity,” the letter said. “Even under the best of care, a tiger’s most basic instincts are thwarted in captivity, and continuing to use live animals as mascots perpetuates the cruel notion that sensitive, complex wild animals should be caged and put on display like championship trophies.”
LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said in response to the letter that LSU is focusing on Mike’s recovery.
“Our primary concern right now is caring for Mike VI and making sure he gets the best possible medical treatment for his condition,” Ballard said. “This is not the time to discuss football season or a new tiger mascot. We are focused on Mike’s health and well-being at this time.”
On Monday, LSU announced the 11-year-old Bengali-Siberian hybrid tiger has a rare tumor in the right side of its face. The cancer will be treated with a first-of-its-kind for a tiger radiation therapy, prolonging Mike’s life for maybe one or two more years, but it cannot cure him. Without treatment, Mike would only live a couple months.
Mike is the sixth live tiger LSU has had on its campus. The first one was purchased for $750 from Little Rock Zoo in 1938.
Animal advocates have frequently chastised LSU for its practice of keeping a live tiger on campus.
But LSU officials have defended the practice, noting the tiger gets top-of-the-line medical care and lives in a 15,000-square-foot facility.
Tigers in captivity also live longer, on average between 14 and 18 years, while tigers in the wild live between eight and 12 years.
Four of the past five tigers LSU has kept have lived longer than 17 years.
On Monday, Ballard said the university is not yet searching for another tiger, holding out hope that Mike VI will continue to live for another couple of years with treatment. But if his condition turns, it would seek another donation of a tiger from a sanctuary as it has in the past, he said.