It’s happened again. Recently, an 18-year-old from California bought a baby Bengal tiger on the streets of Tijuana, Mexico for $300 and then tried to smuggle the baby tiger into the United States. Sigh…
When U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials inspected the vehicle at the border, they found the tiger laying on the passenger seat floor. The teen, Luis Euardo Valencia, says he bought the baby tiger from someone in Tijuana who was walking an adult tiger on a leash, according to court documents. Sadly, several Bengal tigers, native to South Asia, have been seized this year by Mexican authorities in Tijuana. Valencia has been placed in custody and then released on a $10,000 bond. If convicted, he could face 20 years in prison.
The tiger has been handed over to the San Diego Zoo. Now this baby tiger will live out the rest of their life in captivity, instead of where they belong: the wild.
Regulations regarding the private ownership of exotic animals vary from state to state and some are more lax on laws and penalties than others – in some places, all you need is a driver’s license and proof of residence. Aside from state regulations, the lack of personnel in place to monitor the wildlife trade (a multi-billion dollar business in the U.S alone) has made it surprisingly easy for the everyday person to obtain exotic animals. Because of this oversight, animals are often hidden and smuggled through customs and across state borders unnoticed. While it may be legal in some cases to own exotic animals, that in no way means that it is the right thing to do.
Many people purchase animals and then find they are wholly unequipped to care for the animal, especially as they grow. Between the cost of maintaining the proper diet and housing for wild animals, it is extremely difficult to keep these animals without professional experience. Further, even if the animal has been “hand-reared,” that hardly deters their wild instincts, which can lead to situations that are dangerous to both people and the animals themselves. Since 1991, captive big cat attacks in the U.S. have resulted in the death of 24 humans, 17 adults and 5 children, the additional mauling of 261 more adults and children. There have also been 275 documented escapes which resulted in the killing of 147 big cats, and 133 confiscations. And these are only the incidents that get reported to authorities. This is hardly the way for these animals to live, but sadly – thanks to the popularity of this trend, there are currently more tigers in U.S. backyards than their natural habitat.
Protecting the wild populations of any species does not entail keeping them held captive as pets. Instead, we must continue to dissuade the public from buying exotic animals in an effort to reduce the demand that is currently fueling the illegal wildlife trade.
If you are looking for a pet, consider adopting one of the millions of domestic animals waiting for homes in shelters. It is our responsibility to keep wild animals wild.