LSU's live tiger mascot Mike VI, who was diagnosed with a rare, incurable cancer in May, has one or two months left to live, LSU veterinarian David Baker said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Baker said he would begin the process of finding a new live tiger cub to replace the school mascot immediately.
A tumor that was found in Mike's face in May has grown, and is blocking the big cat's right tear duct and sinus canal, which caused a sinus infection last week.
A CT scan conducted earlier this week also found another new tumor in the base of his neck, and a chain of about eight to 10 nodules the size of "small lima beans" on his right rear leg. More of the cancerous nodules were found in the tiger's lungs.
In June, LSU care takers, in conjunction with the Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, treated Mike's original tumor with a stereotactic radiation therapy, which was the first of its kind for a tiger.
LSU's beloved tiger mascot, Mike VI, has been diagnosed with cancer,.
Baker said the therapy effectively lengthened Mike's life for a few months, but medical professionals have opted against another round of treatment.
He said Mike is not exhibiting any signs of discomfort, so he will still be allowed outside in the yard of his habitat on campus for students and fans to "say their goodbyes."
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When Mike VI dies he will be cremated and his remains will be housed in the Andonie Museum for LSU athletics along with the last two live tiger mascots.
Baker said he's looking into the potential for a funeral-like ceremony to honor the passing tiger.
Medical costs for Mike VI were unknown as Wednesday, but Baker acknowledged it's been expensive. The tiger's care has been covered by the LSU Athletic department, which receives no public dollars or student fees.
For years, animal rights advocates have criticized LSU's decision to house a live tiger, urging the university to end the practice.
LSU President F. King Alexander defended the decision to continue to tradition on Wednesday.
"Mike lives longer than most tigers in the wild. He has one of the best habitats in the world," Alexander said. "And I think the educational value of Mike is underestimated."
The tiger mascot, which he said is a major tourist attraction in the state, raises awareness about tiger conservation efforts around the globe.
News about the sick tiger spread throughout LSU's campus quickly on Wednesday and several students said they couldn't imagine a campus without a live tiger mascot.
"It's part of the culture here," said Hailey Johnson, an LSU senior, who said she remembers many years of visiting the tiger at its home.
Caroline Byrne, another LSU senior, called Mike's illness "super sad." But she said the timing is "appropriate almost," considering the changes happening with LSU's football team. LSU's football coach Les Miles was fired less than two weeks ago. The team is now being led by interim coach Ed Orgeron.
"We have a change in the football coach, so it's like we're starting a new chapter," she said. "It's almost like it's OK."
Kaleb Faul, a sophomore, said he feels uncomfortable about replacing the live mascot.
"It sucks, because they keep him in a cage, and he's a wild animal," Faul said. "I don't think we should have a tiger to be honest."
Baker said he would begin the process Wednesday to identify a new young, male cub to be Mike VII. He will be seeking a tiger with a "clean bill of health," and one that is not "overly inbred."
"I'm looking for a personality that is confident, engaging and interactive," he said. "We don't need a tiger that is hiding in the bushes all the time."
There is no clear timeline on when the new tiger will be identified, but Baker said Mike VI took about three months to source and bring to LSU.
Mike VI, who is 11 years old, is one of only two live tiger college mascots in the country. His name is actually a misnomer, because he's truly LSU's seventh tiger mascot. In the 1950s, Mike II died with a few months of coming to LSU, so officials secretly replaced him with a new tiger while insisting it was the same one.
Both Mike VI and Mike V were obtained from animal sanctuaries, which have since been shut down by the federal government for failing to provide proper care.
Baker said Wednesday that Great Cats of Indiana, where Mike VI was born, treated its animals well when Mike was selected.
Great Cats of Indiana was shut down in 2014 after being stripped of its license by the USDA and having all of its animals seized by the state after complaints of cats malnourished and inspections that found that their cages did not meet state regulations.
Baker said the government often places animals in these facilities, but doesn't provide funding for their care.
"They had a lot of mouths to feed and that was an animal who needed a home," he said. "We're going to look for an animal like that."
Photos: Radiation burn visible on Mike the Tiger's face after cancer treatment
LSU's live mascot Mike Tiger VI has developed a dark patch on his face following radiation therapy he underwent for a spindle cell sarcoma.
An LSU spokesperson said the noticeable dark spot around the 420-pound tiger's right eye, which was previously covered by fur, formed naturally from his skin's melanin to protect the area from sunlight.
Mike was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma on the right side of his face in May after caretakers noticed swelling round his eye.
Animal rights groups have said that legitimate, accredited animal sanctuaries do not give away animals, and that many so-called rescue facilities are contributing to a controversial for-profit breeding of wild animals in North America.
Baker said he's comfortable with the facilities as long as the tiger is not being bred for LSU.
"It needs to be in legal compliance with the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) in the way they're managing animals, so we don't entangle LSU in any legal problems," he said. "Beyond that I'm not too concerned with the facility."