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Seventy-Five Years of the Tiger

Oct. 21 marked 75 years that LSU has had a live tiger mascot on campus

Mike I
LSU University Relations

LSU's beautiful Bengal tiger, known by millions of Tiger fans simply as "Mike," is one of the most beloved college mascots in the country. What other tiger can lay claim to more than 100,000 visitors each year and a devoted fan base responsible for donations totaling approximately $4 million to develop a top-tier habitat fit for a king? Mike VI, the current mascot, has reigned over the LSU campus since 2007, but the tiger's tale began 75 years ago, on Oct. 21, 1936, when Mike I, LSU's first live tiger mascot, arrived on campus.

Mike I (1936-1956)

In 1934, Athletic Department trainer Chellis "Mike" Chambers, Athletic Director T. P. Heard, Swimming Pool Manager and Intramural Swimming Coach William G. "Hickey" Higginbotham, and LSU law student Ed Laborde decided to bring a real tiger to LSU, then known as the "Old War Skule." They raised $750, collecting 25 cents from each student, and purchased a 200 pound, one-year-old tiger from the Little Rock Zoo. The cub was born on Oct. 10, 1935, and was originally named Sheik. His name was changed in honor of Chambers, the man most responsible for bringing him to LSU. Mike I arrived on campus on Oct. 21, 1936. Mike died on June 29, 1956, of complications associated with kidney disease. Following Mike's death, a fund was established to perpetuate his memory by mounting his pelt in a lifelike manner and displaying him at the university's Louisiana Museum of Natural History, where it remains to this day.

Mike II (1956-1958)

Mike II
LSU University Relations

A few days after the death of Mike I, Rep. Kenneth Deshotel of St. Landry introduced a resolution in the Louisiana Legislature endorsing the purchase of another tiger. On campus, the Mike the Tiger Fund was launched by Student Body President Enos Parker and fellow students Vic Koepp and John Nunn. Mike II was born on Feb. 28, 1956, at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. He arrived secretly on campus on Sept. 28, 1956. Mike's unveiling occurred the next day, Sept. 29, opening day of football season. Legend has it that less than a month after his arrival at LSU, Mike II died of pneumonia at only eight months of age. There are several pieces of evidence to support the legend that the original Mike II died and was replaced by another young tiger. Photographs of Mike II taken before and after his convalescence are clearly of two different tigers (facial markings of tigers are as unique as fingerprints), and he seemed to have grown at a tremendous rate. All rumors of the death and replacement of Mike II were denied. The second Mike II reigned at LSU for only one season. He died at the Audubon Zoo on May 15, 1958. In 1955, Mike's care was taken over by Dr. Joe Dixon of the LSU Department of Veterinary Science. Thereafter, while the Athletic Department retained authority over the tiger's day-to-day life, Mike II and subsequent tigers would have a veterinarian to attend to their medical needs.

Mike III (1958-1976)

Mike III
LSU University Relations

In 1958, LSU located and purchased Mike III from the Seattle zoo. Mike III as born on Nov. 26, 1957, and arrived at LSU in late August 1958. The LSU student body raised $1,500 for his purchase and transportation. A five-cent "tradition fee" was assessed each student for the tiger's care. Mike III was introduced to the general public at the first home game of the 1958 season, on Oct. 4 against Hardin-Simmons University (LSU won 20-6). In 1976 (three years after the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine accepted its first class), Dr. Sheldon Bivin of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine was asked to take over as veterinarian for Mike III. This marked the formal transfer of responsibility for the tiger from the Athletic Department to a veterinarian. Mike died of pneumonia on Aug. 12, 1976, after the only losing football season of his lifetime.

Mike IV (1976-1990)

Mike IV was born at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla., on May 15, 1974. He was donated to LSU on August 27, 1976, by August A. Busch III. He arrived at LSU on Aug. 29, 1976. Mike spent the summer of 1981 at the Little Rock Zoo, while his enclosure was being expanded from 400 to 1,100 square feet. Money for the expansion was raised from the LSU Student Government Association, the Athletic Department, LSU fans, and a fee of $2 per student. In April 1990, Mike developed a neurologic problem that resulted in mild lameness. In addition, he was getting on in years and was beginning to slow down. The Baton Rouge Zoo offered to take in the aging mascot. Mike IV was put to sleep on March 3, 1995. Mike IV was cremated, and his ashes are located in the Andonie Museum next to the LSU Alumni Association on LSU's campus.

Mike V (1990-2007)

Mike IV
LSU University Relations

Mike V was born Oct. 19, 1989, and came to LSU when he was four months old. Mike V was donated to LSU by Dr. Thomas and Caroline Atchison of the Animal Zoological Park in Moulton, Ala. He was introduced to LSU fans at the LSU-Alabama basketball game in February 1990, and he was moved into his habitat on April 30, 1990. When Mike V first came to LSU, his night house was part of the original habitat constructed in 1937. Mike V passed away at 2:23 a.m. on May 18, 2007, of renal failure. Mike V was cremated, and his ashes are located in the Andonie Museum next to the LSU Alumni Association on LSU's campus.

Mike VI (2007-present)

Mike VI was born July 23, 2005, and came to LSU when he was two years old. At the time of his arrival at LSU, he weighed 320 pounds. His weight as of Oct. 2011 is 460 pounds. Mike VI was donated to LSU by Great Cats of Indiana, a nonprofit sanctuary and rescue facility for big cats and other large carnivores, located in Idaville, Ind. He was moved into his home, north of Tiger Stadium on Aug. 25, 2007, and was introduced to the LSU community on Sept. 1, 2007. He was officially declared Mike VI at a ceremony held on Sept. 14, 2007. He debuted in Tiger Stadium on the evening of the Florida vs. LSU football game on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007.

Mike's Home

Mike V
LSU University Relations

Construction on the current tiger enclosure began in November 2004 and was completed in August 2005. The habitat incorporates natural substrates, including grass, and also includes elements of LSU's renaissance architecture and facts educating Mike's visitors on the five living subspecies of tigers. The new enclosure encompasses 13,000 square feet. Mike VI is most active early in the morning and in the evening; he sleeps most of the day, keeping cool in the shade. He receives about 100,000 visitors each year.

Mike's Daily Care

Mike's daily care is provided by two veterinary students. These students work with Mike for two years until they graduate from LSU. Mike also has a personal veterinarian from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. David Baker, who oversees his overall healthcare and well-being. Besides Dr. Baker, there are numerous other specialists at the veterinary school available to assist with the specialized healthcare needs of Mike. Mike eats 20 pounds daily, so weekly he eats 140 pounds of food. Mike's food is a formulated zoo carnivore diet, the same commercial food used for most of the large cats at the zoo.

"Mike represents all that is good about LSU," said Baker.

A Heritage Worth Preserving

Mike VI
LSU University Relations

In recognition of the fact that LSU is the only university in the United States with a live tiger living on campus, researchers at the Museum of Natural Science partnered with the veterinary school to secure funding and develop a tiger exhibit celebrating not just Mike the Tiger, but the tiger as a symbol of all endangered species. The new exhibit includes interactive components such as a pug mark (paw print), interactive distribution maps of tigers in the wild, and panels with fun and historical facts about the mascot over the years. Sophie Warny, education curator at the Museum of Natural Science, said that the museum is ecstatic to finally open the exhibit to the public after years of fund raising and planning. She added that the new exhibit will enhance the visitors' experience by teaching them about conservation issues dear to the Museum's research mission. But the exhibit also will allow all visitors to relax while listening to the four main sounds tigers make in the wild or listening to an original recording of Mike I's famous roar via the new audio system installed. The display, centered around the taxidermied figure of Mike I, is open for visitors of all ages to visit and celebrate the wonderful traditions surrounding LSU while appreciating the wild ancestors of our favorite striped feline. Details about museum's hours can be found at www.lsu.edu/MNS-Education.