Note: The following is LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe's response to a letter from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) dated May 22, 2007, regarding LSU's plans to obtain a tiger to replace Mike V which died last Friday.
May 22, 2007
Captive Exotic Animal Specialist
501 Front St.
Norfolk, VA 23510
Dear Ms. Wathne:
Thank you for your May 22, 2007, letter concerning LSU’s mascot, Mike the Tiger.
Mike is a treasured member of the LSU family. There are 71 years of history behind Mike, and he represents the heart of our University.
LSU stands behind its treatment of its tigers. Their habitat and lifestyle are constantly monitored to ensure their well being, and they receive state-of-the-art veterinary medical care from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, which can improve and extend the life of a big cat. This is evidenced by the fact that Mike V lived to be 17 years of age. Two of LSU’s tiger mascots, Mike I and Mike III, lived 19 years, and Mike IV lived 20 years 9 months and 18 days. The average lifespan for a tiger in the wild is about 8-10 years. A tiger in captivity, like Mike V, can live 14-18 years.
Our mascots live in an excellent tiger habitat, far better than most found in zoos. Solitary animals by nature, tigers do not congregate in the wild, and due to the alarming state of their species in the wild – tigers are already critically endangered and their numbers continue to shrink – efforts to maintain the integrity of the species will need to be conducted in captivity. The current enclosure is large enough for Mike to express normal species-specific behaviors, including roaming his enclosure. Captive tigers do not have to fight and risk injury to establish and defend their territories, secure mates, or hunt prey. They are also safe from poachers and are not subject to common and debilitating viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections.
Further, LSU is committed to the safe, responsible, and ethical care and handling of its tigers. Mike poses no danger to students, spectators at sporting events, visitors to his habitat, or the medical personnel who care for him. Contact is limited by strict order of the mascot’s trainer and veterinarian, as well as by policies established and enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture. During games, Mike is placed in a specially designed trailer. No persons are allowed to contact the tiger without a barrier between them and the tiger.
LSU’s tigers are treated with the love we give our mascots and all the respect we give wild animals. They are in no way inhumanely or cruelly treated, and their care and comfort are of the utmost importance to all members of the LSU community.
LSU has a federal permit to exhibit a tiger and abides by all animal welfare laws, regulations, and policies. The facility and care provided to LSU's Mike the Tiger exceed federal standards. Finally, it should be noted that LSU, in line with the University’s educational function, is in the process of developing a state-of-the-art tiger education center to educate the public about global conservation issues. The presence of a live tiger will augment the educational impact of the center. Thus, the presence of Mike VI on campus will move the mascot program into a greater educational role than was possible with previous tigers.
The School of Veterinary Medicine has already received dozens of offers for a new cub. We will not take a tiger cub from its mother; we will obtain a cub that has been weaned. And, LSU absolutely will not purchase a tiger from a private breeder, as we do not want to encourage irresponsible breeding of tigers. Dr. David Baker* will assess all offers and will also seek candidates through a list of established contacts, primarily zoos.
Again, thank you for writing. I hope that I have addressed some of your concerns.
*Dr. David Baker is Mike the Tiger's veterinarian.