Tiger on loose for nearly a week moved to sanctuary

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The tiger loose for nearly a week after seen roaming the streets of a Houston neighborhood has been moved to an animal sanctuary.

India, the 9-month-old Bengal tiger, will be introduced to a half-acre wooded plot at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, Noelle Almrud, senior director of the sanctuary, told reporters at a press conference Sunday morning.

He will be examined by the staff veterinarian and will be quarantined for 30 days.

While India, who already weights 175 pounds, is still playful at this age, he could prove deadly once he matures into adulthood, Almrud said. While the cub is used to interacting with humans, the two other tigers the group has rescued from homes in Texas -- Elsa and Loki -- quickly acclimated to becoming "wild" tigers and receive no direct interaction with humans, she added.

"Our hope is that we get full and legal custody of India so that he can live out his life here at Black Beauty Ranch, where he can have the life a tiger should-as close as possible to what he would have in the wild," Almrud said in a statement.

The group is pushing for laws that would prevent the private ownership of tigers, Almrud said. It is already illegal in the city of Houston to own a tiger, officials said.

The saga to locate the missing Bengal tiger, named India, began on May 9 after users of the neighborhood social media platform Nextdoor began posting about sightings of the cat.

The tiger's alleged owner, 26-year-old Victor Cuevas, fled the scene with India in the vehicle just as police were arriving. He no longer had the tiger when police arrested him on May 9 and so the search began.

The cat escaped Cueva's property after climbing the fence, Cuevas' attorney, Michael Elliot, said after his court appearance on Friday.

India was located Saturday night after Cueva's wife contacted police and brought the tiger to BARC Houston, the city's animal shelter, Houston Police Department Cmdr. Ron Borza said at a press conference Saturday night.

India spent Saturday night at BARC and was transported to the sanctuary Sunday morning, Almrud said.

"Houston authorities did a remarkable job over the past several days to locate India and to ensure the safety of the public and the animal," Almrud said in a statement. "Black Beauty Ranch will provide safe sanctuary for him and give him a proper diet, enrichment, an expansive naturally wooded habitat where he can safely roam and will provide everything else he needs to be the healthy wild tiger he deserves to be."

Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement that while the organization is glad India was found safe, it is unacceptable to "have dangerous wild animals roaming neighborhoods or living in people's homes."

"Forcing these animals to live under such conditions, confined and treated as a 'pet' is inhumane and a serious public safety risk -- no matter how 'cute' or 'tame' the animal may seem," Block said. "Big cats like India express natural, unpredictable behaviors that can occur at any moment. Situations like this are why we are working to pass federal legislation. The Big Cat Public Safety Act would prohibit keeping big cats as pets."

Cuevas has been charged with felony evading police and is being held on $300,000 bail. He denies owning the tiger, but police have alleged multiple times that he is the owner.

Cuevas was previously arrested in July 2020 and charged with murder stemming from a 2017 fatal shooting outside a sushi restaurant in Fort Bend County, Texas, according to police. He has pleaded not guilty and was free on bond at the time of his arrest this week.

Police do not plan on charging Cuevas' wife with any crimes, Borza said.

ABC News' Matthew Fuhrman, William Hutchinson, Mark Osborne, Zohreen Shah, Abby Shalawylo and Gina Sunseri contributed to this report.

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