Houston police are actively looking for a man who they believe owns what authorities are describing as a Bengal tiger that was seen wandering in the front yard of a home in a residential neighborhood.
Houston police Commander Ron Borza said during a May 10, 2021, news conference that he couldn't yet name the suspect in the incident because the man hasn't yet been formally charged with a crime, but he expected the suspect will be charged with evading police.
However on May 11, police announced they had arrested Victor Hugo Cuevas, 26, on the charge of evading arrest. The whereabouts of the tiger, as of this writing, aren't known. An attorney for Cuevas told a local news station that he isn't the owner of the tiger.
Cuevas was is out on bond for murder charges in a November 2020 case out of Fort Bend County, Texas, Borza said.
Borza said Houston police responded to calls about a tiger in the front yard of a home on Ivy Wall Drive on May 9 at about 8 p.m. Widely seen cell phone video posted to social media shows a man pointing a gun at the tiger, but he didn't open fire. Borza said that man was an off-duty police officer.
Borza stated that Cuevas had taken the animal inside the home, but when Houston police showed up, he put it in a white Jeep Cherokee with paper license plates and drove off. Police pursued briefly, but lost sight of the vehicle.
The city of Houston has an ordinance banning members of the public from owning wild animal considered dangerous to humans. Borza said owning a tiger violates the city code and is a misdemeanor.
"My main concern right now is focusing on finding him and finding the tiger," Borza said during the May 10 news conference. "Because what I don't want him to do is harm the tiger. We have plenty of places we can take that tiger and keep it safe and give it a home for the rest of its life."
In 2019, Houston police found another captive tiger in an abandoned house, kept in a small confinement area. That big cat, now named Loki, was transferred to and now lives at a wild life sanctuary outside Dallas. A third captive tiger that escaped her confines in San Antonio during a storm, lives at the same sanctuary, and is now called Elsa.
According to Houston police, their animal cruelty unit is investigating the incident, along with the city animal shelter staff.
In 2015, the Smithsonian reported that there are an estimated 5,000 tigers living in captivity in the U.S. — which is more than the total number (3,200) that live in the wild. In 2018, the BBC put the number of tigers living in captivity in the U.S. higher, at 7,000. But the problem with wild cats kept in captivity is that even if they are raised by humans, genetically they are predators with predator instincts.
In some ways, the Houston case is reminiscent of the famous "Tiger King" saga. In that case, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who goes by the moniker "Joe Exotic," was sentenced to 22 years in prison for a failed scheme to hire a hit man to kill his nemesis, Florida big cat sanctuary owner Carole Baskin.
Baskin weighed in on the situation in Houston during an appearance on CNN, calling out both U.S. senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, for the Senate's failure to pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act, a bill that would prohibit members of the public from owning large wild animals like tigers.
"Tigers are hardwired to roam hundreds of square miles, so there's no cage that's going to be sufficient for them," Baskin said on CNN. "And the only reason that people have tigers as pets is to try and show off to others that they are more powerful than the most powerful creature on the planet. That already tells you that the kind of people who own tigers are really dangerous, reckless people."