HOUSTON (AP) - Authorities on Monday were searching for a Texas man whose tiger was found wandering around a residential area in Houston and who was out on bond on a murder charge.
Video of the Sunday night encounter shows the tiger coming face-to-face with an armed off-duty Waller County sheriff's deputy, police said. During the encounter, the deputy can be heard yelling at Victor Cuevas, who police believe is the tiger's owner, to get the animal back inside.
No shots were fired.
When officers arrived, Cuevas put the animal in a white Jeep Cherokee and drove off, Houston police Cmdr. Ron Borza said during a news conference Monday. Cuevas got away after a brief pursuit, he said. Police on Monday afternoon charged Cuevas with evading arrest, a felony.
"My main concern right now is focusing on finding him and finding the tiger because what I don’t want him to do is harm that tiger. We have plenty of places we can take that tiger and keep it safe and give it a home for the rest of its life," Borza said.
Cuevas' attorney, Michael W. Elliott, said once he verifies that police have filed a charge in the case, he will arrange for his client to turn himself in.
But Elliott said he didn't think Cuevas was the owner of the tiger or that he was taking care of the animal. The attorney also said it was unclear to him if Cuevas was the person seen on videos of the incident.
"People are making a lot of assumptions in this particular case. Maybe he might be the hero out there who caught the tiger that was in the neighborhood," Elliott said.
Cuevas was charged with murder in a 2017 fatal shooting of a man outside a restaurant in neighboring Fort Bend County and was out on bond. Elliott said Cuevas has maintained the shooting was self-defense and is innocent of the murder charge.
Cuevas also apparently had two monkeys in the home, Borza said.
Having a monkey is not illegal in Houston if the animal is under 30 pounds (13.5 kilograms). Tigers are not allowed within Houston city limits unless the handler, such as a zoo, is licensed to have exotic animals. Texas has no statewide law forbidding private ownership of tigers and other exotic animals.
"Private citizens and emergency responders should not have to come face to face with a lion or a tiger in a crisis," said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, a Washington, D.C.-based animal rights group. "These animals belong in the wild or in reputable sanctuaries or zoos and nowhere else."
Borza said residents should not have such animals because they can be unpredictable.
"If that tiger was to get out and start doing some damage yesterday, I’m sure one of these citizens would have shot the tiger. We have plenty of neighbors out here with guns and we don’t want to see that. It’s not the animal’s fault. It’s the breeder’s fault. It’s unacceptable," he said.