Houston police were still searching on Saturday for a tiger that scared locals when it was seen briefly lurking around a suburban neighborhood last weekend. The fugitive felid is not believed to have attacked anyone.
Victor Hugo Cuevas, who allegedly owns the nine-month-old male, named India, faces an evading arrest charge after he fled from the officers who responded last Sunday night to a call about a “dangerous animal”, authorities said.
No new information on India’s whereabouts emerged at a court hearing on Friday. Authorities said they had received about 300 tips– none of which panned out.
During the hearing, Waller county sheriff’s deputy Wes Manion said he lives in the neighborhood where India was seen, and was alerted to the carnivorous cat’s prowling presence by a neighbor.
Manion said he interacted with the tiger for about 10 minutes, to ensure it didn’t pursue anyone else. Cuevas, he alleged, emerged from his residence shouting: “Don’t kill it!”
Cuevas allegedly said it was his tiger.
“He approached the tiger, grabbed it by the collar, kissed its forehead,” Manion said.
Manion said he identified himself and instructed Cuevas not to leave after he put the animal in the back of a white SUV. Cuevas fled when police arrived.
After his arrest it was reported that he was already out on bail for a murder charge in neighboring Fort Bend county, over a 2017 shooting. Cuevas claims self-defense.
Cuevas’s attorney, Michael W Elliott, said his client did not know police wanted to speak to him and left out of fear for India’s safety as Manion was being aggressive.
The lawyer also argued that Cuevas didn’t do anything illegal, pointing to the fact that Texas does not have a statewide law barring private ownership of exotic animals. However, tigers are not permitted inside Houston city limits unless the handler is licensed.
Elliott described the animal as a pet and said Cuevas would sometimes care for it. He gave out copies of photos that showed Cuevas holding and kissing the animal.
Elliott claimed Cuevas, a mixed martial arts fighter who has also been a barber, met the tiger’s owner after buying a dog.
“This [tiger] is loved like a dog. Victor’s love for this cat … is real,” Elliott said.
He also said Cuevas only knew the tiger owner’s first name, had been working with authorities to find India, and wanted the cat to be safe.
Police commander Ron Borza said some tips on India’s location were “a little bit crazy”.
“We know the group of people that are involved in the exotic animal trade here in Houston,” he said. “We have visited all of them and no luck so far.”
In court on Friday, judge Frank Fraley ordered a new $300,000 bond. If Cuevas was released, Elliot said, he would do anything he could to find the tiger and move it to a wildlife preserve.