By Julie Watson The Associated Press
SAN DIEGO — 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.
Luis Eudoro Valencia was charged with smuggling a Bengal tiger into the United States after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials found the furry cub lying on the floor of the passenger side of his car during an inspection around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday 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 had purchased the tiger for $300 from someone who was walking a full-sized tiger on a leash in Tijuana, according to court documents. Several Bengal tigers, which are native to South Asia, have been seized this year by Mexican authorities in Tijuana.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials took custody of the cub and handed the male cat over to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to care for it.
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 neighbourhood. Officials said the 4-month-old tiger had been 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 neighbour’s patio, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Despite the fall, the tiger appeared to be in good health.
Mexican circuses have been trying to get rid of exotic animals after a law went into effect in 2015 prohibiting such acts. Drug lords in Mexico have also been 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.
Valencia could not be immediately reached for comment and the office of his court-appointed attorney, Robert Schlein, said he has not had a chance to speak to his client.
Valencia was released on a $10,000 bond and ordered to appear for a preliminary hearing on September 5 in federal court in San Diego.
If convicted, Valencia could face up to 20 years in prison.