Bengal tiger found unharmed after week missing in Texas

The nine-month-old Bengal tiger, called India, is seen in a cage after being captured by the authorities in Houston on May 16, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

HOUSTON (AFP) - A Bengal tiger last seen a week ago roaming the lawns of suburban Houston and terrifying locals has been found unharmed and was moved on Sunday (May 16) to an animal sanctuary, the police said.

"We got him, and he's healthy," Houston police commander Ron Borza was seen saying in a video.

The animal, named India, had been in the custody of the wife of its owner, a 26-year-old man seen in social media videos last week kissing the untethered tiger before placing it into his car and driving off.

The man, identified as Victor Cuevas, was arrested on Monday (May 10), freed on Wednesday, then re-arrested on Friday. He had faced a past murder charge.

When the incident began on May 9, frightened neighbours saw the nine-month-old tiger wandering through their yards in a residential neighbourhood.

Videos showed an off-duty sheriff's deputy pulling a gun when he saw the tiger, before Cuevas arrived to take it away.

The animal was recovered by the owner's wife, and she agreed to hand it over to police, Mr Borza told reporters late on Saturday (May 15).

He did not say where the big cat had spent the week but stressed that the woman had always known its whereabouts.

"We are happy to report that the missing tiger seen in a Houston neighbourhood last week has been found and appears to be unharmed," the city police said.

Owning a tiger is illegal within Houston city limits - though it is permitted in many parts of the state under certain conditions - but police said Cuevas' wife would face no charges.

Still, Mr Borza told reporters, "You should not have that in your home. It's not good for the tiger."

The Houston Police Department released a video of the 80kg tiger being petted and given a drink.

The big cat was transported to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, where it will have its own habitat with 0.2ha, including a wooded area and pool.

"Our goal is to provide him the best quality of life for the rest of his life," ranch director Noelle Almrud told a press conference.

Ms Almrud told reporters that India would go into quarantine for 30 days before being introduced to his new habitat, although he looked healthy based on an initial visual inspection.

Texas is known for having a large number of tigers in captivity.

Nationwide, the World Wide Fund for Nature conservation group estimates that there are about 5,000 tigers living in captivity, a number greater than the entire world population of wild tigers.

Mr Borza, in his news conference, thanked the Houston police officers who helped track the animal down.

"I think the public thought it'd be easy to catch a tiger," he said. "But it wasn't at all."

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