1.14.18 Tiger Captivity

Mike the Tiger enjoys the cold weather on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in his habitat on LSU campus.

Mike the Tiger’s status as a bachelor with one sweet crib has mostly been solidified since the completion of several additions to his enclosure in 2017. But in 1945, Mike I had a fateful encounter with a tiger femme fatale.

According to the book “Mike the Tiger: The Roar of LSU,” a student body vote declared the majority thought Mike I needed to prove his manhood and produce cubs. Soon after, Mike I was on his way to a zoo in Jackson to meet his potential mate, Desdemona.

When Desdemona caught sight of Mike I, she snorted and growled. The University’s own apex predator could not bear the huffy treatment, and according to the book, “instead of returning the greeting, Mike I jumped back in such fear, he landed on his back.”

The lack of tiger sex to phone home about quickly became a problem for the late Jim Corbett, the director of sports information at the University from 1945-55. A 2007 article from The Times-Picayune said Corbett had to keep the story out of the media in fear of the rival school discovering Mike I’s failed attempt at love.

“Can you imagine the hit LSU would have taken if the word got out Mike [I] was not macho?” Corbett questioned then. “I looked [the name Desdemona] up. She was the sexy wife of Othello in the Shakespeare tragedy. Think of the PR tragedy LSU might have faced.”

Mike I was on campus for nine years when he met Desdamona in 1945. Eleven years before, the Tiger Athletic Foundation said athletic department trainer Chellis “Mike” Chambers along with athletic director T.P. Heard, intramural swimming coach William G. Higginbotham and University law student Ed Laborde decided the Ole War Skule, as the University was called then, needed a live tiger mascot.

On Oct. 21, 1936, students skipped class and gathered on Highland Road with other onlookers to see their new mascot.

Mike I died in 1956 and Mike II arrived soon after. But, the new tiger died of pneumonia after one month. With the football team in a losing season and fearing ridicule, The Times-Picayune article said Corbett sent a notice to The Daily Reveille, explaining Mike II was having trouble with his new surroundings and would be kept inside “until he becomes more accustomed to the excitement of being a mascot.”

Then-athletic department business manager Jack Gilmore said in The Times-Picayune that he, Corbett and then campus police chief C. R. Anderson, buried Mike II after midnight underneath a willow tree on the Mississippi River.

“When [Corbett] got word the first Mike II died, he was already thinking in PR terms,” Gilmore said. “He was thinking about people making jokes, about how Mike [II] died because he couldn’t handle the shame of what was happening on the football field.”

Gilmore quickly located another tiger cub in a Seattle zoo, and soon the second Mike II took up his residence on campus. Ironically, he was also short-lived, staying only one season before dying after complications from multiple fractures to his back left leg. TAF said the University does not know how or when he sustained the fractures.

TAF calls the tale of the two Mike II a “legend” on Mike’s official website, but photographs from the first Mike II’s arrival and after the second was put back in his habitat show two obviously different tigers. The story became public knowledge when Gilmore wrote an essay about the ordeal.

Mike III was introduced on the first home game of the 1958 football season, which also happened to be the first championship season for the football team as they beat Clemson 7-0.

Mike III spent 18 years as the University’s mascot from 1958-76 and died of pneumonia after the only losing season of his lifetime. TAF said Mike III is the only tiger mascot known to have growled on command. Joel Samuels, Mike III’s caretaker from 1965-67, used this to his advantage one gameday.

Samuels was able to get Mike III to growl by saying “Get ‘em Mike.” TAF said during one LSU-Alabama game, Alabama’s players were crowded around Mike III’s cage. Samuels quietly gave Mike III the signal, and he scared the players so badly that Alabama coach Bear Bryant gave Samuels a stern talking-to.

Mike IV arrived on campus in 1976. His reign signaled a new era for the University’s live mascot, as he was donated from Busch Gardens while the University purchased the previous tigers. The University has not purchased a tiger since Mike III.

TAF said Mike IV spent the summer of 1981 at the Little Rock Zoo while his enclosure was expanded from 400 to 1,100 square feet.

Also in 1981, pranksters cut the locks on Mike IV’s cage early in the morning. He escaped and roamed around campus, enjoying his newfound freedom. LSUPD notified Mike IV’s vet at the time, Dr. Sheldon Bivin, who then had the task of sneaking around campus at 1 a.m. in search of a roughly 400-pound tiger that naturally hunts at night.

Bivin was armed with a shotgun and tranquilizer, according to The Times-Picayune article. But once Bivin found Mike IV inside the LSU Bernie Moore Track Stadium, he shot Mike IV with three tranquilizer darts before the feline went down and his caretakers safely returned him to his habitat.

The University retired Mike IV to the Baton Rouge Zoo in 1990 due to declining health, and he died there in 1995 as the oldest Mike ever.

Mike V had an unusual introduction to the University because Mike IV was not actually retired by the time he arrived on campus. TAF said Mike V is considered to be the friendliest and most playful mascot of all.

One of the most notable events in Mike V’s reign was the “I Like Mike” campaign in 2001, a fundraising effort to improve and expand Mike V’s habitat. The project was completed in 2005 and Mike V moved into his new home in August 2005. He died in 2007 from kidney failure, because he was too weak to withstand the anesthesia from emergency surgery.

Mike VI came to the University in 2007 when he was 2 years old. In May 2016, Mike VI was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma, an inoperable form of cancer. Despite treatment, Mike VI’s tumor grew and his condition worsened. On Oct. 11, 2016, Mike VI was euthanized in his night house.

Mike VII is the University’s current tiger mascot. He was donated from a wildlife sanctuary in Florida, and was introduced to the public on on Aug. 21, 2017.

Editor's note: The reporter reached out to the vet school for further information but didn't receive any.

Load comments