LSU building new habitat for Mike the Tiger

Updated: December 31, 2004, 1:04 PM ET
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's 400-pound bengal tiger mascot, Mike the Tiger, lives at the Baton Rouge Zoo while his future home is converted into a nearly $3 million habitat complete with a waterfall, live oaks and an Italianate tower.

The animal's renovated home should be open in time for LSU's football season opener in September, officials said.

Supported through a private fund-raising campaign, the new 15,000-square-foot environment for the cat will be one of the largest of its kind in the nation, according to the Tiger Athletic Foundation, which helped sponsor the drive.

"This will be unlike anything anyone has seen in this country," said David Baker, the cat's veterinarian.

Later planned additions include a large adjoining plaza with "kinetic sculptures" honoring LSU sports, an Italianate arcade, research and husbandry programs, recreational activities and further aesthetic improvements.

The habitat was the pet project of DeLaine Emmert, wife of the former chancellor Mark Emmert. The project got a boost from an energetic fund-raising effort that included donor parties at football coach Nick Saban's house and the limited-edition sale of 5,000 silk-screen copies of a Mike the Tiger painting by Louisiana painter George Rodrigue.

The athletic foundation is also offering sponsors a chance to put their names on a brick for the habitat walkways, for $100 apiece. More money comes from T-shirt sales and proceeds from a 121-page book, "Mike the Tiger: The Roar of LSU." The campaign has its own Web site at mikethetiger.com.

The project has come a long way since its ignominy in the Legislature in 2002, when a $2 million request for the habitat somehow clawed its way into the state's capital outlay budget. It caused an uproar, and lawmakers quickly extinguished the request for public money.

The foundation put the project on course without digging into taxpayers' pockets. The foundation, a booster organization that promotes school sports programs and supplements pay for coaches, is in charge of the ongoing $82 million expansion of Tiger Stadium and an athletic center.

Mike, also known as Mike V, is an integral tradition of live sporting events at the school. The first Mike the Tiger arrived in 1936 and established the game-time ritual of rolling him onto the football field sidelines aboard a wheeled cage festooned with waving cheerleaders. Visiting athletes run past him when they enter the field from the locker room.

Just before kickoff, Mike roars into a stadium microphone to the crowd's raucous approval. Mike also appears at basketball games.

The first Mike lived in a 400-square-foot cage, and it wasn't until Mike IV in 1981 that a new 1,100-square-foot habitat and cage were placed between the football stadium and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The tiger site has been an attraction for visitors, especially on game days.

"Mike the Tiger's cage, or habitat, is one of the most visited sites in all of Baton Rouge," foundation spokesman Herb Vincent said. "People want to see him taken care of."

So that habitat is being torn down to make way for the new complex, which will resemble an Audubon Zoo exhibit in which visitors can see the animal in a natural environment without looking through cage bars. Visitors will be able to see Mike from the front of the exhibit and looking down from the Maravich Center. The tiger's pond, stocked with live fish, will have a window below the surface for guests to see Mike frolicking underwater. The Italianate tower will camouflage the water-treatment equipment, which requires a high vertical structure.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press