BATON ROUGE, La. — There’s a certain degree of irony in the fact that in a month where LSU’s football team has become a figurative zoo, its campus is becoming less of a literal one.
Five months after being diagnosed with cancer that began as a facial tumor but quickly spread throughout his body, Mike the Tiger — LSU’s live tiger mascot — passed away Tuesday. He was removed from his on-campus habitat on public display Monday and put into hospice care.
For a mascot that can’t really do anything that a usual mascot would do, it’s a little bizarre to see what kind of resonance the 11-year old jungle cat has had in the heart of the Bayou. But that resonance was unavoidable Monday when speaking with people before he died. Students and fans littered the walls of Mike’s enclosure with letters and drawings and flowers and souvenirs and anything they could find to symbolically send their well-wishes to Mike. And all day, passers-by stopped and stared at the mementos left behind, some out of curiosity, some out of cathartic grief.
And to some, it was a reminder to never let the incredible things in life start to feel mundane.
“I think I do take [Mike] for granted,” said Harper Street, a second-year LSU student. “I know some people come visit a lot, but looking back on it now with him being sick and everything, I think a lot of people do take it for granted. On game days I think people do see him a lot, but I think people forget that six of the other days of the week, he’s just chilling here by himself most of the time. It’s a tough situation.”
To Street, Mike is a symbol of LSU’s fascination with tradition, a living embodiment of the connection that fans have to the university. And while he acknowledges that entrapping a wild animal into the feline equivalent of solitary confinement is a murky gray area, he takes the utilitarian view that the joy Mike brings to the campus makes up for any issue that may arise by him being there in the first place.
Some students disagree with the idea that Mike’s mere presence on campus is inhumane. And the data doesn’t seem to disagree with them. According to Mike the Tiger’s official website, tigers in the wild generally live 8-10 years, while captive tigers often live 14-18 years. Mike IV, the mascot who came two tigers before the current Mike, lived to be just three months shy of the legal drinking age.
This has to do with the way the line of Mikes are treated, and is why, at least in one student’s view, LSU should continue the tradition after Mike the VI passed on.
“I really hope they get another one. That’s going to be so disappointing if they don’t,” said Abigail Askew, a sophomore at LSU. “Just because people don’t think that he gets treated well. That’s so dumb. He clearly does. He got treated at Our Lady of the Lake. I don’t know how people think he doesn’t get proper care.”
Three other students when interviewed by SEC Country all agreed in that regard. The wins and memories that came under Mike VI’s watch might be irreplaceable, but Mike himself is not. And LSU should, at least in their minds, continue the tradition with a Mike VII.
If you listen to the student body, you’ll hear a multitude of reasons as to why this is believed. There are the Modi sisters, Ami and Priya, who always make sure to bring their family to see Mike when they’re in town. There’s sophomore Emma Gray, who points out how enamored and awed children are when they get to see a wild beast. And there are the countless others who walk by Mike’s habitat every day on the way to and from class, stopping if just for a moment to gaze, wonder, or just relax on a bench and be transported to the jungle.
Even for the people who walk by Mike’s habitat daily, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement every once in a while. And for good reason too.
“I think it’s rare,” Gray said. “Like, you don’t see live animals on campus. Like, who has a tiger on their campus?”