Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Tiger Crew And Shasta

This is something I never forgot about like I spoke of in my lion story the other day, and when I tell people about this, I can tell that some don't quite know whether to believe me or not.

I went to high school at Neville High School in Monroe, Louisiana from fall of 1976 to May of 1980 when I graduated.

They have a zoo in Monroe called the 'Louisiana Purchase Gardens And Zoo.' It's not a great zoo as zoos go, but it's better than you would expect a city of 55,000 people to have.

Anyhoo, at that time, the male Bengal tiger in the zoo actually belonged to our high school. His name was Shasta. He was born and lived his whole life at this zoo. Here is a picture of him (click).

My senior year I was part of what was called The Tiger Crew.

On the Friday mornings of football season, our responsibilities were as follows:

  • Get Assistant Principal's big 4x4 Ford pickup truck and get to the zoo.
  • Help zoo workers put small tiger cage against Shasta's cage door.
  • Wait for workers to coax Shasta into small cage with food or something.
  • All of us push 400+ pound tiger, with cage, up a set of rails into truck.
  • Cover Shasta and cage with big blankets to help him keep calm and to try to keep him from peeing on us. (more on this later)
  • Get back to school and put Shasta in cage on stage of auditorium for pep assembly.
  • After pep assembly was over, reverse above process.

If the game that night was a home game or in town somewhere at a local rival's school, we would do the following:

  • Get one of the rich student's big 4x4 Ford pickup truck and get to the zoo.
  • Help zoo workers put large pull-behind tiger cage against Shasta's cage door.
  • Wait for workers to coax Shasta into large pull-behind tiger cage with food or something.
  • No pushing of 400+ pound tiger with large pull-behind tiger cage, thank God.
  • Pull Shasta in big cage to whatever local stadium and park him behind our school's football team sideline on the running track.
  • Try to get girl's attention while being ultra-cool right next to 400+ pound tiger.
  • After the football game was over, reverse above process.

Now Shasta was, as I said, raised there in captivity. He was pretty docile but he was so big and impressive that you never forgot for a split-second that this guy could rip you to shreds.

I didn't know until my first day on the Tiger Crew that male tigers like to mark their territory. Male tigers mark their territory by raising their tails and spraying their scent straight back in a stream of pure ammonia urine. Or what ever that stuff is, but I DO know ammonia is the major component. Trust me, I know.

Not trying to gross anybody out here. Just trying to be real. This was a constant problem with Shasta.

Move a male tiger, and as soon as you stop, he's the boss and he knows it, so he commences to marking the new territory. This was the main reason we put blankets over his small cage for morning pep assemblies, too keep us from getting sprayed.

Shasta's spray to mark his territory would shoot ten or fifteen feet, and near the end of it's flight would almost magically atomize into a cloud. I've seen nothing like it before or since. Every single week after getting him back to the zoo, one or more of us had to go home to shower and change before going back to school. His spray was truly like being sprayed with a super soaker type water gun filled with pure ammonia.

Looking back it is funny, but we HATED getting sprayed with tiger pee pee.

One question I have since so much time has gone by:
1. Why would the Neville High School powers that be, and the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo turn a 400+ pound tiger over to four seventeen year olds? Were they stinkin' insane?

Four seventeen year old males driving around in a pickup truck with a 400 pound tiger in a cage in the back? Bah. Letem do it. What trouble could they possibly get into?

It absolutely boggles my mind that they let us do that.

I like to use the phrase, good times, good times.

But these were some of my Great Times! Great Times!

I loved every minute of doing all that.

Except for the whole getting sprayed with the ammonia scent, territory marking, tiger pee pee thing.

Here's a picture of three of the four of us at a game, with Shasta (me on right)(click).


Bill Langston said...

Thank you so much for the Shasta story. I would like to point out one error in your article, however. Shasta was not born in the Zoo. When I was at Neville, graduating class of '64, the student body purchased this tiger cub (either 6 or 8 months old, I forget which). As I recall, the purchase was made possibly in time for the '62 football season. Seemingly the arrangement was based on the following background circumstances.

At a pep rally in '61, the cheerleaders had arranged to bring in an ocelot (A little on the small side, but since the football team was considered small, this was appropriate!)

Anyway, seems someone asked someone else what it would take to get a tiger for the zoo. Well, the zoo couldn't get the money for a tiger, but could get the money to keep one if someone else purchased it.

In the best of Neville spirit, the need for money was announced and we, the student body, raised the moolah to purchase Shasta and have him shipped to Monroe.

Why "Shasta?" you ask. The keeper at the zoo had been a hollywood animal trainer. He told us we could use whatever name we wanted, but that "Shasta" was a good training name (had something to do with animals reactions to various sounds). Nobody could think of a better one.

Again, thanks for the memory.

Patrick Madden said...

I was class of 1976...I remember Shasta the zoo and at home games. I don't know what became of Shasta or the tradition...I would hope it met the same fate as "Mike" at LSU...though I don't know for sure. I moved away...went into the service...God Bless Shasta and NHS...