Despite protest, LSU plans to replace tiger mascot

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May 22, 2007

BATON ROUGE — The sequel is on.

There will be a Mike VI live tiger mascot in his habitat across the street from Tiger Stadium, LSU officials said Tuesday after PETA (the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) asked by letter that the university not put another tiger in captivity.

Mike V died Friday after emergency surgery at the age of 17. Dr. David Baker, the director of Laboratory Animal Medicine at the LSU Veterinary School, said then and again Tuesday that he plans to find a Mike VI.

“The LSU mascot is a part of LSU,” Baker said. “We plan to get another one by football season.”

LSU’s two-year old, $3 million, 15,000-square foot, zoo-like habitat already has plaques for Mike VII, VIII, IX, X and so on above the main viewing area.

“Having a live Tiger at LSU is important to the students and is a tradition,” Baker said.

PETA, though, does not want to see another Tiger cub “forcibly removed’ from its mother for an unnatural life filled with stress. Lisa Wathne, a captive exotic animal specialist, sent a letter on PETA’s behalf to LSU chancellor Sean O’Keefe that was received Tuesday.

“We are writing to express our sympathy over the death of Mike the tiger, and to urge the school not to replace him,” the letter says. “Big cats in captivity are denied everything that is natural and important to them, such as the opportunity to run, climb, hunt, establish their territory, and choose their mates. In October 2003, the journal Nature reported Oxford University researchers’ findings that large, roving predators—such as tigers—show stereotypical symptoms of stress when they are kept in captivity because they are unable to satisfy their instinct to roam. The authors conclude, ‘The keeping of naturally wide-ranging carnivores should be either fundamentally improved or phased out.’

“Even LSU’s new enclosure simply cannot fully provide for a tiger’s needs. If LSU purchases a tiger cub, a newborn tiger will be forcibly removed from his or her mother within days of birth. Tigers have strong maternal instincts, and mothers nurse their young for three to six months. Premature separation is psychologically damaging to both infants and their mothers and deprives tiger babies of the maternal care that they need for normal physical and mental development.

“May we please tell our members that LSU has made the compassionate decision not to subject another live tiger to an unnatural life as a school mascot?”

No, was the answer from LSU chancellor Sean O’Keefe in a letter back to PETA on Tuesday.

“Mike is a treasured member of the LSU family,” O’Keefe wrote. “There are 71 years of history behind Mike, and he represents the heart of our university. LSU stands behind its treatment of its tigers. Their habitat and lifestyle are constantly monitored to ensure their well being, and they receive state-of-the-art veterinary medical care from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, which can improve and extend the life of a big cat.

“This is evidenced by the fact that Mike V lived to be 17 years of age. Two of LSU’s tiger mascots, Mike I and Mike III, lived 19 years, and Mike IV lived 20 years 9 months and 18 days. The average lifespan for a tiger in the wild is about 8-10 years. A tiger in captivity, like Mike V, can live 14-18 years.”

Mike V was also not forcibly taken from his mother. He arrived at LSU in February of 1990 when he was four months old.

Wathne, in turn, answered that letter in an interview with Gannett.

“Unfortunately, LSU’s reasoning for continuing with its plan to obtain another tiger is way off the mark,” she said. “LSU’s expensive tiger habitat may appear grandiose to humans, but in fact it provided Mike with less than one acre of space – not nearly enough for a tiger to express his very basic and powerful natural behaviors. In the wild, tigers roam up to 400 miles.”

Wathne did not like O’Keefe’s life expectancy argument.

“The length of an animal’s life cannot be equated with the quality of that life,” she said. “A human prisoner may live longer than the average life expectancy since a prisoner is not at risk of car accidents, etc. But few of us would choose to spend our lives in prison in the hope of extending our lives.”

“Tigers are indeed endangered in the wild, but keeping a tiger caged at a university and parading him around at chaotic sporting events contributes nothing to the conservation of the species in the wild. In fact, it’s likely to have the opposite effect by encouraging the public to obtain their own wild animals as “pets,” thereby fueling the exotic animal trade. LSU could make a significant contribution to the conservation of tigers by donating the money it would spend to purchase and care for another tiger to conservation efforts in the wild.”

Corey Kilburn, a Baton Rouge Community College student headed to LSU, was shocked at PETA’s stance.

“A real Mike the Tiger is part of the LSU family,” he said while dining with a buddy at the Chimes restaurant near the LSU campus. “And we treat the tiger better than the students, even better than the football players. They’re treated very well. I think PETA’s just mad because they don’t have a tiger.”

Kilburn’s friend Josh Maxwell, who goes to Louisiana Tech, agreed.

“Mike V lived better than me,” he said. “PETA is being ridiculous. LSU has to have a tiger. That’s the way it is. That new habitat is better than a zoo.”

LSU fans, students and Mike V admirers continued to drop off notes, pictures, newspaper articles and other gifts at the late Mike V’s habitat on Tuesday.

Two people, at first, did not know why this was being done.

“We just found out he died,” said LSU alum Janet Dickey of Paris, Texas. Dickey and her daughter Sarah Dickey were on their way back home from the University of Virginia, where Sarah is studying to become a veterinarian.

“She wanted to stop and see Mike,” Janet said.

“He’s family. I hope they get another one for student morale,” Sarah said.

“They have a great place for him to live,” Janet said. AID=/20070522/SPORTS0202/305220006/1001/SPORTS

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