A California teenager who says he bought a Bengal tiger cub on the streets of Tijuana for $300 was arrested when he tried to bring it into the United States in his 2017 Chevy Camaro, according to news reports.
Luis Eudoro Valencia was charged with smuggling a Bengal tiger into the United States after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials found the cub lying on the floor of the passenger side of his car during an inspection around 1:30 a.m. at the Otay Mesa border crossing.
“CBP officers are often faced with unusual situations,” said Pete Flores, director of field operations for Customs and Border Protection in San Diego.
The 18-year-old U.S. citizen, who lives in Perris, said he purchased the tiger for $300 from someone who was walking a full-sized tiger on a leash in Tijuana, according to court documents.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials took custody of the cub. The young tiger is being cared for at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Several Bengal tigers were seized this year by Mexican authorities in Tijuana. In January, Mexican authorities seized a Bengal tiger in Tijuana after a resident called police to report a man was walking a tiger on a dog leash through the neighborhood. Officials said the 4-month-old tiger was living in a private home with children.
In April, Mexican officials seized a nine-month old Bengal tiger in Tijuana after the cub fell from a third-floor terrace onto a neighbor’s patio, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Despite the fall, the tiger appeared to be in good health.
Mexican circuses are trying to get rid of exotic animals after a law went into effect in 2015 prohibiting such acts. Drug lords in Mexico are also known to keep big cats as pets.
All species of tigers are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Importing an endangered species into the United States requires a permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and a declaration filed with the agency. Prosecutors say Valencia lacked both.
He was released on a $10,000 bond and ordered to appear in federal court in San Diego for a preliminary hearing. If convicted, Valencia could face up to 20 years in prison.