A tiger that roamed a neighborhood, then was taken by a man suspected of murder who went on the run from police, was turned in to authorities Saturday.
The Houston Police Department, which had been searching for the animal for nearly a week, posted on Twitter that the tiger, a 9-month-old named India, had been found and appears to be healthy. The department said the tiger was handed over by the wife of the man who loaded the animal into a Jeep Cherokee last week and fled from officers.
Victor Hugo Cuevas, 26, who had been out on bond for an unrelated murder charge in Fort Bend County, Texas, was arrested Monday — without the tiger.
His wife, Gia Cuevas, joined police Saturday when they recovered the tiger, and she can be seen in a video petting and bottle-feeding the cat with Houston Police Commander Ron Borza. Borza said the tiger appears to be fairly tame but weighs 175 pounds and still has claws. India will be transferred to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch wildlife sanctuary, he said.
“In no way, shape, or form should you have an animal like that in your household,” Borza said. "That animal was extremely powerful; if he wanted to overcome you, he could do it instantly.”
Officers were first called to a residential neighborhood in the city May 9 when someone using the app Nextdoor posted about the cat roaming around houses and lawns.
An off-duty sheriff's deputy who lives nearby saw the post on Nextdoor and showed up shortly afterward to help, according to local TV station KHOU. He told KHOU that the tiger stalked him across the street but didn’t appear to be particularly aggressive.
Videos show the deputy pointing a gun at the tiger. A man identified as Victor Cuevas then can be seen coming out of a house and attempting to bring the animal inside. As officers arrived on the scene, he put the tiger in the Jeep and fled, police said.
It is illegal to own a tiger in Houston. Cuevas’s attorney Michael Elliott previously said his client was not the tiger's owner and had only been looking after the animal for someone else. However, Borza said he had been told by Gia Cuevas that she and her husband owned the tiger together.
Elliott also reportedly gave a conflicting account of the animal’s recovery during a press conference Saturday, saying that Gia Cuevas had received a phone call about the tiger’s whereabouts and that the tiger had been handed over at the Westside Tennis Club after a discussion about how to do so anonymously.
Victor Cuevas was charged with evading arrest, and he remains in custody, since the bond related to his murder charge was revoked.
Borza said that Gia Cuevas is not currently facing charges, but he added that police are still investigating.