Mike VII’s official welcome was rained out Tuesday, which allowed LSU to discuss how the new live mascot underscores the need to protect the endangered predator in the wild and to improve the plight of privately owned tigers in this country.
“We now have a new mission and that mission is to play a role in conservation,” LSU President F. King Alexander told reporters who gathered for the “official welcome.” The school’s welcome party will be rescheduled for Wednesday or Thursday.
“We’re going to utilize our research expertise and our educational mission as an institution to perhaps save one of the world’s best known and most regal creatures on earth,” Alexander said.
LSU officials have tacked towards conservation as some critics raised questions about the propriety of a public university housing a wild animal as a mascot. The number of tigers that are not in a zoo but owned as pets or as marketing tools or have been abandoned in facilities, far exceeds the number of cats in the wild.
“This is a refuge tiger, one we have saved,” Alexander said.
The tiger announced early Monday as LSU’s new mascot, Mike VII, was something of child star …
As a cub named Harvey, the new Mike the Tiger was used to make money by letting tourists feed and pet him for $100 a shot. When he grew too old and too large, the tiger ended up in a facility that lost its license. New owners were brought in by Florida authorities to upgrade the facility and find new homes for the tigers, lions, leopards and other cats.
“He is here,” Alexander said, “as a tiger who was facing impending doom.”
“We wanted to find a tiger that was no longer wanted, could no longer be cared for … and was in need of a permanent home,” said Dr. David Baker, the LSU professor who serves as Mike the Tiger’s veterinarian.
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He and Dr. Gordon Pirie, the veterinarian for the Baton Rouge Zoo, went to Florida to look at a tiger named Rocky. “Almost as an aside, we were also shown a younger cub named Harvey. It was quickly apparent to me that Harvey had all the characteristics that we were looking for.”
Baker wanted certain anatomical traits, such as a double stripe that makes the tiger look bold. But he also was interested in the beast’s behavior.
Harvey “was very confident, very interactive, very affectionate. He was up at the front of his little enclosure, which was little dirt lot, chuffing at us, which is a happy sound, greeting us, obviously wanting to play,” Baker said.
Baker said laws and procedures are much more stringent now than when he searched for Mike VI in 2007. He received hundreds of unsolicited notices from people about tigers, including those from breeders who offered to provide a tiger to LSU. He didn’t want to promote breeding of the tigers in captivity, so crossed off any that were purposely bred.
Instead, Baker said he relied on tiger sanctuaries as well as state and federal captive wildlife inspectors to point him towards possibles.
Mike VII will live alone, a situation some have criticized. But Baker says that’s natural, particularly for males. In the wild the only time tigers come together are to mate and that’s not in the cards for this animal.
Mike VII is not among the six subspecies whose genetics are being protected by conservationists, veterinarians and zoos. He will not be bred.
“He is what is called a grade tiger, a mix. But he is fine for us,” Baker said. “I am certain he will do fine on his own.”
Baker said Mike VII will be a very visible mascot, often in his yard, but for his own protection and well-being, he won't be paraded around Tiger Stadium before games.
The LSU Senate faculty passed a resolution asking to add $1 to sports tickets to raise money for conservation efforts.
Alexander said he appreciates the faculty wanting to raise money, but he hasn’t discussed the idea with them and right now he’s not sure LSU would include a surcharge.
“Right now, it’s a Pandora’s box,” Alexander said.