A person who entered an abandoned house in Houston’s Harrisburg/Manchester neighborhood looking for a quiet place to toke found a tiger instead, KPRC-TV reported on Monday.
According to KPRC, the anonymous tipster understandably believed they were hallucinating when they found the animal, a female that police said was shut in a tiny cage secured only by a “screwdriver and a nylon strap”:
The tipster said they were at the house to smoke marijuana and thought they were hallucinating when they first saw the tiger, according to police.
The tiger was found in a “rinky-dink” cage in the garage, which was not locked, police said. The garage was secured with a screwdriver and a nylon strap, according to police.
KTRK reported that when the tipster called 311 to report the animal, police also suspected they were under the influence of drugs—though investigating officers found both the tiger and “several packages of meat”:
“A concerned citizen called 311. They were trying to get into this house to smoke marijuana. We questioned them as to whether they were under the effects of the drugs or they actually saw a tiger. They saw a tiger in this building, this vacant house that’s obviously been abandoned for some time,” said Sgt. Jason Alderete, of [the Houston Police Department’s] Major Offenders, Livestock Animal Cruelty Unit.
While the tipster saw the tiger a week ago, it was only on Monday that Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC) officers and police found the animal. Who had put it there remains unclear.
The tiger was in “a pretty small cage inside basically a garage in a house that didn’t look like it was in the best shape,” Houston official Lara Cottingham told KPRC. “So it was important that we get it out of that situation.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, neighbors were totally unaware of the presence of the animal, with some speculating it was a pet and others saying that it posed a clear safety threat. Local resident Pablo Briagas told the paper, “I have my kids here. It’s dangerous for them to have (a tiger down the street). Even if they had it as a pet, that’s dangerous.”
The tiger is bound for a BARC shelter on a temporary basis, with Cottingham telling the Chronicle that their facility was “not designed to house big cats.” BARC officials have been in communication with a wildlife refuge but it will not be able to take in the animal until later this week, she added. KPRC-TV reported that the Houston Zoo said that it has no plans to take the animal in.
It’s not clear what subspecies of tiger the animal was, though the IUCN Red List classifies all tigers as endangered, with less than 4,000 and possibly as little as around 2,150 estimated to remain in the wild. However, trade in captive tigers is rampant, and the Chronicle reported in 2016 that some estimates have put their number in Texas at higher than the wild tally. While they are illegal to own in Houston, according to the paper, and are listed among the 19 species of “dangerous wild animals” subject to regulation in the state, ownership is essentially unregulated beyond an “easily” avoidable permitting process in “the unincorporated county and vast rural expanses.”
According to the Statesman, despite the thousands of tigers believed to be kept throughout the state, a Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman that only 50 were registered as of February 2018. Animal rights and conservation activists say the inconsistent patchwork of laws on tiger ownership in Texas—the state does not track which counties ban tigers, and county-level enforcement is sometimes loose—has resulted in serious consequences, the Statesman reported.
“The tragedy here is that we do have laws, but the laws are not effective in any reasonable manner,” Texas Humane Legislation Network advisory director Skip Trimble told the Statesman. “... You can buy them online, or you can buy them on the side of the highway, or you can trade them with somebody. There’s nothing that requires a sales slip for the seller. So the seller doesn’t have to report anything, and the buyer doesn’t have to report anything.”