Mike the Tiger has been a fixture at Louisiana State University since 1936, when Mike I assumed duties as a live mascot on campus. 77 years later, it is Mike VI roaring his way into Tiger fans' hearts, particularly that of one man known simply as "The Tiger Whisperer."
The man's name is Darrell Bezet and he has not been spotted in recent months, but his legend lives on.
Every day, Mike the Tiger has company. "I actually walk up the hill and pass him every day," said LSU student Linsey Roach.
Sometimes Mike paces his $3 million habitat, stretches out in his waterfall and other times he is just happy alone in the corner of his enclosure, says Ginger Guttner with LSU's School of Veterinary Medicine. "We find that a lot of people feel that Mike needs a friend and we have to explain to them that in the wild, tigers do not really hang out with other tigers," she said, "there is a pride of lions, but there is no pride of tigers."
But images on YouTube depicting Mike's relationship with The Tiger Whisperer paint a different picture about his affection for friends. "He does interact with people that come to visit him and he certainly knows his caretakers," said Guttner.
Youtube has thrust a 50ish-year-old man named Darrell Bezet into the spotlight with videos of Mike leaping to see him, pawing at the glass. He has become a celebrity of sorts with Mike lovers. "All my friends have watched it and just laugh out how funny it is and how great Mike is and that he knows the guy," said LSU student Bridget Savoie.
"He would paw at the glass every time he came up to him, which is pretty amazing that he recognized him every time," said Roach.
It has been 10 ten months since any new videos of The Tiger Whisperer have surfaced and folks we talked to at Mike's home say they have not seen him lately.
So we set out to find him ourselves, knocking on doors of homes in Baton Rouge we were told might belong to Darrell, and making several phone calls. No luck.
As The Tiger Whisperer flies under the radar, spectators are trying to step into the special role with Mike. "We just yell his name," said Savoie. As for getting a response? "No," she said.
Guttner says it can be humorous watching people trying to call Mike. "People have tried, 'here kitty, kitty,' that doesn't work, people rattle their keys," she said.
There is no guarantee that you can actually get Mike to respond. People call his name, clap and whistle, but the fact is he is a 450 pound cat with a very strong personality. "He is going to do what he wants," said Guttner, "he's a predator, he's not gonna respond to voice commands really well. He's not trained."
But even with his big size and predatory instincts, we know he has a softer side thanks to his mysterious friend.
It is believed that Darrell lives in the Spanishtown area of Baton Rouge. We could only find one interview from him and it was in April 2010 with LSU's Legacy Magazine. Click here to read it.
Your best bet to see Mike up and moving is in the evenings between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.