I know it's been a week since LSU's live tiger mascot Mike V died, but I actually visited his habitat yesterday. Of course, he wasn't my personal pet, but seeing his empty place got me to thinking.
Yes, he was an animal, but his existence and passing were obviously big deals. I was in Nashville, Tenn., when news got out that he was dead, and I immediately got five text messages from other LSU Tiger fans. They were punctuated with :( emoticons and omgs.
The death definitely made me a little sad, but for more than one reason. Having a tiger is controversial, and I can see more than one aspect in the arguments.
Yes, Mike V was special to me. (I'm sure Mike the VI and however many others I see also will be special.) I graduated from LSU. Meeting near his cage was a sort of tradition for a lot of my friends before football games. I guess it was a little silly, because several thousand other excited football fans also met there. I even have friends who say they happened to be near the cage when his trainers were working with him and that they got close enough to touch him. (I never saw this myself, though.)
Anytime one of my friends from another college came to visit, I'd take them to see Mike. The kid I tutored at a Baton Rouge elementary school always asked me about Mike. The big cat was fascinating, so it's a little disheartening to know a bit of tradition is gone.
Then, I can actually kind of see why animal rights activists get upset. Yes, he was a tiger that is supposed to be able to stalk his prey. I'm not zoologist, but I thought his back legs looked bit scrawny for a cat his size. I know he didn't get to run much, even in his $3 million habitat built just a few years ago.
I admit I enjoyed hearing him roar when he was pulled around Tiger Stadium in his mobile cage, but I also wanted to know exactly what was making him holler. Popular legend says only the Mike the Tiger suit (with a person inside) could rile him up. But I can't help but wonder if it was just a quick poke that wasn't visible from the student section. In my mind I imagined Saturday night in Death Valley as slightly similar to being a Roman watching wild animal hunts--obviously minus the blood and guts. And Christians being eaten by lions. So those mental images are gloomy, too.
But according to LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe and others, this Mike and three previous tigers lived longer than most wild tigers. So who knows? In some ways this tiger led a charmed live. But could it have been better elsewhere?
I guess even some of the best things in life are disputable. How do you argue with yourself? I'm not sure how to win.
RIP Mike, 1990-2007.
(Thanks to Times photographer Jim Hudelson for the September 2000 file photo.)