BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - LSU's live mascot, Mike the Tiger VI, is simply a wonder that everyone loves. He's beautiful and powerful, yet wondrously mysterious.
To this day, Mike is still more popular than any football player who takes the field at LSU. School officials have made it clear for years that Mike's natural habitat is the most visited site on campus. Sunday afternoons, in particular, are a peak time, with families flocking one by one to snap photos, record videos or just watch the big guy in awe.
Dr. Dave Baker is Mike the Tiger's caretaker. The veterinarian has worked at LSU for roughly two decades and personally chose Mike VI in the summer of 2007. Baker said the Bengal Tiger, formerly known as "Roscoe," was immediately "a confident, affectionate animal" upon their first meeting. And, he's retained that personality ever since. Although Mike immediately trots to the wall of his habitat and rubs his head against the glass at the sight of Baker, there are still boundaries humans can't cross.
Baker recently took time to discuss several topics concerning this majestic creature.
Why does everyone love Mike the Tiger?
"Everyone has their own reasons for loving Mike the Tiger," Baker answered. "But I think to summarize it, Mike represents everything good that people remember, and the alumni, think about LSU. That's a pretty powerful emotive symbol."
And no one can ever blame him for losing a game?
"People could blame him and I know some people do, but I don't think he's buying it (smiles)," Baker said.
What's the worst advice you've been given from a fan on Mike the Tiger?
"You can't imagine how many Tiger experts there are out there. And, they all seem to have my email address (laughs). I think the worst advice I've ever got, there's so many it's hard to choose - but when someone suggested we use a "Hot-Shot" (a handheld device that emits an electric shock, often used on cattle) to get him into the trailer on game day. We don't do that and that wouldn't end well," Baker replied.
There was also a post-game radio show caller once that wanted to know why Mike the Tiger didn't run out onto the field with team, like Colorado does with Ralphie the Buffalo. What do you say to that?
"Yeah, that wouldn't go well. We'd be running…but we'd be running from him (laughter)," Baker stated.
What's your comfort zone with him?
"We never go into the same space as him. We probably could and he probably wouldn't intentionally injure us. But, he's not a pet. He's not a house cat. He's an apex predator. And so, we respect that and when people forget these are wild animals, that's when they have problems. There's a difference between being in captivity and being domesticated. Tigers are not domestic animals. We also respect that and keep some distance," Baker answered.
Do you view Mike as an extension of your family? I know you took it hard when Mike V died (he lived from 1990-2007, a very healthy lifespan).
"I wouldn't say I view the Tiger as an extension of my family. I know that's a very common view people have towards their animals these days. My relationship is more of a caretaker role. And, I feel a tremendous responsibility for his well-being. And, that his life is the best it can be. Everything that is done with him places his welfare and the reputation of this university and those two are one in the same, as the most important priority. When Mike V died, that was hard on all of us that cared for him because we felt so much responsibility for him," Baker replied.
Yes, it's still Mike's choice whether or not he attends home games in Tiger Stadium. So far, Mike has decided to get in the cage for 32 of LSU's 44 possible home games. The tiger is never sedated and the days of provoking him to roar are over.
Baker said Mike's weight fluctuates between 400-450 pounds and unlike most humans, Mike actually gains weight in the summer because he's inactive due to the heat. He also said tigers that live in the wild typically only last 8-12 years, while those kept in captivity live 14-18 years. LSU has also had three of its live mascots live almost 20 years, a great feat. The awesome dwellings Mike VI currently occupy should likewise be a huge aid in living another long life.
And finally, Baker said tigers actually don't spend much time running. Just like a devastating and lightning quick LSU defense, "they pounce."