A stoner in Houston looking for a place to smoke weed found a surprise when he entered an abandoned house: a tiger, left behind by its negligent owner.
The tiger was confined to a small cage inside the abandoned house in southeast Houston. The cage had been secured with only the most tenuous setup: a screwdriver and a nylon strap.
The Houston Police Department and BARC Animal Shelter & Adoptions intervened, and on February 12, the tiger was tranquilized and then transported to what will likely become his new home: Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, the world-renowned 1,400-acre animal sanctuary 79 miles southeast of Dallas.
At Black Beauty, he'll undergo a medical examination and be placed in quarantine for a minimum of two weeks. His permanent placement is pending possible court action.
The ranch has a five-acre, wooded habitat complex that emulates a native environment. He'll join more than 800 resident animals including two tigers – Charlie, rescued from a breeder in 2016, and Alex, a former pet who arrived in 2014.
According to the BBC, the stoner called the police, who initially thought he was hallucinating. As everyone knows, that's what happens when you smoke weed. You hallucinate and see tigers.
"We questioned them as to whether they were under the effects of the drugs or [whether] they actually saw a tiger," a Houston police officer told ABC-affiliate KTRK.
The police found no signs that anyone lived at the house, but there were a few packages of meat kept nearby.
According to a release from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the discovery of the tiger is not the first such incident in Texas.
- In 2016, the Conroe Police Department received a report of a tiger roaming a residential neighborhood after an escape from someone's backyard.
- In 2001 in Lee County, a three-year-old boy was killed by a relative’s pet tiger.
- In Channelview, a four-year-old boy had his arm torn off by a 400 pound tiger in 2000.
HSUS president and CEO Kitty Block says that Texas lawmakers should follow the lead of the 35-plus states that have strengthened their laws prohibiting the private possession of dangerous wild animals. "Keeping wild and exotic animals in private hands threatens public health and safety as well as animal welfare," she says. "They are not pets and deserve better."
In Texas, Senator Joan Huffman and Representative Eddie Lucio III have introduced SB 641/HB 1268 in the current legislative session, which prohibits the private ownership of big cats, bears, great apes, hyenas, macaques, and baboons. Exemptions are made for wildlife sanctuaries as well as breeders, dealers, and exhibitors licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture who meet specific criteria.
At the federal level, the Big Cat Public Safety Act is expected to be reintroduced in the 116th Congress. It will create a national framework for regulating the private possession of dangerous wild animals as well as prohibit public contact with certain species.
The bill will address the thousands of animals being kept as pets or in grossly substandard conditions at unaccredited zoos, and end future ownership of big cats by unqualified individuals. It would also allow for a series of exemptions for individuals meeting specific requirements.
Exotic animals are currently readily available to anyone who wants to buy or own one. An estimated 5,000-7,000 tigers live in captivity in the U.S.
There is no uniform regulation regarding the private possession of big cats or other dangerous wild animals in the U.S. Thousands are being kept as pets or in unaccredited zoos.
Katie Jarl Coyle, Texas state director for HSUS, called it "a very, very good day for this tiger."
"But there is work yet to do," Coyle says. "If you live in Texas, please consider taking 10 minutes out of your day and calling your State Senator and State Representative and ask them to please support SB 641/HB 1268 to end the private ownership of dangerous wild animals."