BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — As summer vacation swings into full force, there’s one spot on LSU’s campus that countless people will be willing to beat the heat to visit.
Since Mike the Tiger VII began his rule at LSU in the fall of 2017, members of the LSU community and guests alike have flocked to the Bengal tiger’s home just outside of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
And while Mike’s $3.7 million 15,000-square foot environment is impressive, most would agree that the tiger himself is even more fascinating.
It isn’t unusual to find crowds gathered around the friendly tiger’s habitat, eager for a glimpse of him as he plays, swims, or simply relaxes.
To appease curious fans who have questions about LSU’s favorite four-legged representative, just below is an interview with two of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine’s third-year students who work as Mike VII’s caretakers.
They offer a behind-the-scenes look into what it’s really like to be around the big guy on a daily basis.
Q: Can you tell us your names, and describe your typical responsibilities as Mike’s caretakers?
A: Our names are Amelia Talbot and Erin Guillory; we are both entering our third year as veterinary students at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine.
As Mike VII’s caretakers, we are entrusted with his daily care, which includes feeding him at night, assessing his overall health and wellbeing, providing him with enrichment, and ensuring that his habitat and night house are both clean and safe.
Q: When it comes to his general personality, how would you describe him?
A: We would describe Mike VII as goofy and playful. He is overall a happy tiger who enjoys exploring his surroundings, interacting with the public, playing with his boomer ball, swimming in his pool, and taking long naps on his back.
Q: Social media is full of funny cat videos that show the small domestic felines engaging in quirky behavior. Has Mike ever done something quirky that made you or his other caretakers laugh?
Erin: Mike VII has a ton of funny, unique quirks. One of my personal favorites occurs weekly, when we give him his ox tail for dental health. Sometimes we hide it in his food or place it in different locations in his holding rooms as a form of enrichment. His reaction when he finds it is almost always the same – he will grab it and proudly jump up on his platform, as if he is saying “Look at me, guys! I found it!”
Amelia: Mike VII loves to spray people, so you have to watch out for his hind end. He tends to get people when they are turned around or not paying attention. Once his tail goes up, I always find myself laughing when I, along with others, am running away as fast as possible to avoid being sprayed.
Q: Has Mike ever done something that revealed an unexpected depth of intelligence that surprised you? If so, can you tell us about the incident?
A: Mike VII is extremely intelligent. What surprised us most when we first started working with him was how quickly he came to know and recognize us. He has now spent so much time with us that he even recognizes our vehicles! As soon as he sees us drive up in our cars, he runs to his rocks to watch us. He won’t do this for any other vehicles.
Q: Does Mike seem to have any favorite humans? If so, how does he show special affection for them?
A: Mike VII really enjoys seeing the public at his enclosure. He thrives on the daily interactions he partakes in, as it keeps him engaged throughout the day.
Mike definitely has familiar faces he recognizes, and he will give out friendly “chuffs” to those people, but we like to think that he loves all of his fans equally and doesn’t pick favorites.
Q: When guests visit his environment, is there anything they should avoid doing so as not to upset him?
A: Yes, there are a few things we ask from the public. We ask his visitors not to taunt him, turn their back to him, or bring their pets. These are all things that could upset him or stress him out.
Although there are signs posted around the enclosure alerting people to these requests, many people don’t see them. We want Mike VII to remain the happy, calm tiger that he is, and his fans can help by following these simple rules.
Q: Sometimes, taking care of an animal can help us develop certain aspects of our own personalities. Has caring for Mike taught you anything about yourself, or benefited you in any way?
A: Taking care of Mike the Tiger is an enormous responsibility – one we both fully understood when we applied for the position.
Caring for Mike is a twice a day, 365 days per year job that we devote ourselves to for two years. Thus, it requires a lot of discipline and responsibility.
Communication is a big component, as well.
We are both in constant communication with each other and Dr. David Baker, LSU’s attending veterinarian, in order to ensure Mike is happy, healthy, and taken care of.
Most importantly, Mike has taught us that hard work pays off and that jobs can be extremely rewarding.
There’s nothing we would rather do than serve the LSU community by caring for our beloved mascot, Mike VII. Amelia and I both agree: Mike is the best part of our day, every day.
Click here for additional information on Mike the Tiger.