Days after a tiger was first spotted roaming a west Houston neighborhood before evading capture, the big cat has been found.
Houston police announced late Saturday that the 9-month-old Bengal tiger was turned in to authorities and appeared to be in good health. A video posted to Twitter shows police commander Ron Borza petting India, the 175-pound tiger. India is wearing a bedazzled collar as a woman embraces the feline and feeds him from a bottle.
“We got him and he’s healthy,” Borza says in the clip, after noting that it had been a long week of searching for the animal.
About a week earlier, the pet was seen jumping over backyard fences and roaming front lawns – a sight that shocked neighbors, who described the area as a family-oriented community where kids and dogs regularly stroll.
The tiger, police allege, belonged to 26-year-old Victor Hugo Cuevas, who faces charges in a 2017 murder and was out on bond ahead of the trial.
The cat was spotted on a residential street in west Houston, and bystanders took pictures and videos. One off-duty sheriff’s deputy tried to corral the animal. By the time authorities arrived to a home Cuevas was renting, police said, witnesses saw the man load the tiger into a Jeep and drive off. Cuevas was arrested the following day, but the search for the tiger continued.
At a Monday news conference, Borza said Cuevas and the tiger got away after a brief pursuit. After his arrest, Cuevas was charged with felony evading arrest and fleeing from police. At a separate news conference, Cuevas’s attorney, Michael Elliot, said his client was not the tiger’s owner but was working with authorities to help locate the animal.
Then, authorities got a call about the cat at about noon on Saturday.
A “concerned citizen,” who police said is a friend of Cuevas’s wife, Gia, contacted officials at BARC, the city of Houston’s animal shelter. The friend said Gia, who police say owns the animal, wanted to turn the tiger over to authorities. Police then helped get the tiger to the shelter.
“I let Gia come along with us, the owner of the tiger, because of the stress the tiger has been through over the last couple of weeks,” Borza told reporters at a Saturday night news conference, referring to the video of the tiger being bottle-fed. “He was obviously agitated.”
A Houston city ordinance bans the ownership of tigers and other wild animals, while Texas is one of a few places in the country with both lax regulations on exotic-animal ownership and a climate hospitable to such animals. Police said Saturday that no charges have been yet filed in the tiger case.
“In no way, shape or form should you have an animal like that in your household,” Borza said, adding that the 175-pound animal could grow to 600 pounds.
“I work out every day – that animal was extremely powerful,” the commander added. “If he wanted to overcome you, he could do it instantly, no doubt about it.”
Police said it was not known where exactly the tiger had been all week.
“The tiger was passed around a little bit, but ultimately Gia knew where the tiger was at all times,” Borza said.
The tiger was set to be picked up Sunday morning by the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, an animal sanctuary in Murchison, Texas.
“They’re going to take the tiger, and it will be amongst other tigers and it will be in a very good environment,” Borza said.
Asked whether police will look into the other locations where the tiger may have been recently kept, he said, “We’re going to keep investigating.”
“Just because we got India back today doesn’t mean there’s not other exotic animals in the city of Houston,” he said. “I’d like to round them all up and put them in a safe environment.”
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The Washington Post’s Kim Bellware and Jaclyn Peiser contributed to this report.