Victor Hugo Cuevas, previously on bail on an unrelated murder charge, was arrested on Monday for evading police, who say Cuevas loaded the tiger into a white SUV and left when officers arrived. The whereabouts of the tiger is currently unknown.
Cuevas was being held on $ 50,000 bail in neighboring Fort Bend County, which he released on Wednesday. His lawyer, Michael Elliott, held a press conference outside the prison with Cuevas by his side. They argued that Cuevas is not the owner of the Bengal tiger, which they claimed was a nine month old male named “India”.
“(Police) saw my client come out into the yard and retrieve the tiger and they assumed he had done a lot of different things that he hadn’t necessarily done that he wasn’t guilty of, just like they assumed the tiger was hers, “Elliott argued.” Of course not. “
Elliott pointed out that they were working to locate the animal but declined to say where his client, who was last seen with the tiger, drove Sunday night with “India” inside a SUV.
“We are both very anxious and anxious to do whatever we can to find India,” he said. “We want to find India.”
Owning a tiger is a violation of Houston law, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $ 500, but it is legal under Texas state law with some restrictions.
A surprising spectacle in Houston
Jose Ramos, a resident of the Houston neighborhood where the incident took place, was eating a meal Sunday night when he looked out the window and saw a tiger sitting in his front yard.
“I had to pinch myself,” he said in an interview with CNN. “Was it real?”
Ramos cautiously stepped out to take a closer look. “It seemed a little nervous,” he said. “But he was in eye contact with me.”
An MP on leave who lives nearby showed up after seeing photos of the tiger Ramos posted to a neighborhood message board, Ramos said.
The MP had his gun pointed at the tiger when Cuevas walked out of a nearby house, imploring the MP not to shoot the tiger, Ramos said. “He looked very stressed, very distressed just the fact that the deputy was aiming at the tiger and was ready to shoot him.”
As police units responded, Cuevas put the tiger in a white SUV and drove off, according to Houston Police Commander Ron Borza.
Cuevas is charged with escaping arrest / detention with a vehicle, according to Fort Bend County Jail records.
What to do in front of a tiger
Carole Baskin of Netflix’s “Tiger King” fame praised the deputy on leave in an interview with CNN for his response to the tiger.
“I was so impressed with the deputy who showed up on the scene because he did exactly the right thing, and he showed incredible restraint in not shooting that tiger.” , said Baskin.
“He kept eye contact, he backed away slowly. A tiger, if you look down, if you turn around, if that neighbor has returned to his door, it triggers their instinct to kill.”
Baskin said residents of the neighborhood who were near the tiger were in “extreme danger”.
“Tigers are wired to travel hundreds of square kilometers, so there is no single cage that will do them,” she said.
“The only reason people have tigers as pets is to try and show themselves off to others.”
How the agencies react
The unique dilemma surrounding a missing tiger has led several government departments and animal groups to coordinate on what to do if the tiger is found.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service told CNN that the agency is consulting with Houston Police and offering expert advice to ensure the endangered species law is not violated while detaining the tiger.
A spokesperson for BARC – the city’s animal shelter and adoption center – said animal control officers were assisting Houston police with the investigation. According to city rules, it is illegal to keep wildlife dangerous to humans in any facility other than a zoo or accredited shelter.
“In the event that such animals are found in Houston, animal control officers will impound them and transport them to a safe location – either BARC, another refuge or a regional wildlife facility – to protect the wildlife. public safety as well as animal health, ”spokeswoman Lara Cottingham said in a statement.
The Black Beauty Ranch has offered to host the new tiger once it is found, but a decision has not been made by city of Houston officials, according to the Humane Society.
HPD Commander Borza told a press conference on Monday that finding the tiger was a major concern. He added that they were also looking for cubs which were missing last year but have still been found.
CNN’s Holly Yan, Carma Hassan, Keith Allen, Amir Vera and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.