Houston police still don’t know the whereabouts of missing tiger
Here's what we do know
(CNN) — It’s a wild story about a wild animal, but you won’t find this tiger tale on Netflix.
A Bengal tiger last seen in a west Houston neighborhood on Sunday is still missing, according to police.
Investigators have fielded hundreds of calls in connection to the 9-month-old cat named India, police said. But they still don’t know where the tiger is.
Where did this tiger come from?
It’s not clear.
The man last seen in public with the tiger, Victor Hugo Cuevas, claimed the tiger was his, according to testimony from an off-duty deputy. But Cuevas’s attorney said that the tiger does not belong to his client; he has, however, cared for it occasionally in recent months. Cuevas, 26, released a video through his attorney of him playing with the tiger as if it were a dog in what looks like a dining and kitchen area.
Cuevas was out of jail on bond for an unrelated murder charge in Fort Bend County and on a separate charge of evading arrest earlier this year in Austin County when he was spotted with the cat Sunday. He was arrested Monday and charged with felony evading arrest, according to police. He bonded out by Wednesday afternoon. On Friday, the state argued Cuevas violated bond conditions multiple times over the years, including on Sunday. A Fort Bend County judge revoked his bond on the 2017 murder charge, so Cuevas is back behind bars.
Wes Manion, an off-duty deputy who lives in the neighborhood where the tiger was seen with Cuevas, testified that he had his weapon trained on the animal as he waited for police Sunday. Manion said Cuevas came out and pleaded with him not to kill the tiger, telling the deputy, “That is my tiger,” before grabbing it by the collar, kissing it on the forehead and taking it in the house. Manion added Cuevas got into an SUV with the tiger and drove off, ignoring numerous commands to stop.
Cuevas’s lawyer said his client returned the cat to its owner Sunday night, but didn’t identify the person.
The latest on the investigation
Police believe the tiger is still in Houston and that it has been in as many as eight different locations throughout the city during the past week.
While Texas law does allow ownership of a tiger with certain restrictions, it’s a violation of Houston law. City rules require wild animals that are dangerous to humans to be kept in an accredited zoo or shelter.
Animal control officers are helping police with the investigation, according to Houston’s animal shelter and adoption facility, BARC.
“In the event any such animals are found in Houston, Animal Control Officers will impound the animals and transport them to a secure location — either BARC, another shelter, or regional wildlife facility — to protect the safety of the public as well as the animals’ health,” a city spokeswoman said in a statement.
At least one sanctuary has offered to take India once he’s found.
Carole Baskin weighs in
What would a modern tiger story be without a Carole Baskin cameo?
The founder of Big Cat Rescue and star of the Netflix series, “Tiger King,” is offering a $5,000 reward to whoever safely hands over India to an accredited sanctuary and works with authorities to convict whoever was involved in the buying and selling of the tiger, she said in a video posted to her Instagram account.
Baskin told CNN this week that those in the neighborhood near the tiger were in “extreme danger.”
“Tigers are hardwired to roam hundreds of square miles, so there’s no cage that’s going to be sufficient for them,” Baskin said. “The only reason that people have tigers as pets is to try to show off to others.”
Baskin said the off-duty deputy did the right thing.
“He kept eye contact, he backed away slowly. A tiger, if you look down, if you turn, if that neighbor had run back to his door, that triggers their instinct to kill,” she said.
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