Missing tiger in Houston found safe, taken into custody after suspect's wife turns cat over to cops

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Sunday, May 16, 2021
India the tiger to be transferred to ranch in North Texas
India was turned over safely Saturday and has been receiving medical attention at a Houston BARC facility. Soon, the tiger will be heading out to a ranch to live with other tigers.

HOUSTON, Texas -- The nine-month-old Bengal tiger that has been missing for days in Houston was found Saturday and was transferred to the appropriate authorities, officials said.

"We are happy to report that the missing tiger seen in a Houston neighborhood last week has been found and appears to be unharmed," Houston police tweeted.

Houston Police Commander Ron Borza identified Gia Cuevas and her husband, Victor Hugo Cuevas, as the owners of the tiger during a Saturday night press conference.

The tiger appears to be in good health, Borza said. Animal control officials in Houston will be delivering the tiger to an animal sanctuary Sunday, according to police.

Gia Cuevas turned in the tiger to the authorities, said Borza, adding that she is not facing any charges at this time. Borza didn't say how the couple obtained the tiger.

It is illegal to house a tiger in Houston, according to Borza.

"In no way shape or form should you have an animal like that in your household," Borza said. "That animal can get to 600 pounds. It still had his claws, and it could do a lot of damage if he decided to."

RELATED: Owner of tiger roaming loose in Houston neighborhood was out on bond in 2017 murder, records show

In the wake of a tiger sighting in west Houston, police are now looking for the animal's owner, who is said to be no stranger to law enforcement.

The tiger is currently secured at BARC, the city's animal shelter and adoption agency, said Mary Benton, communications director for the city. The tiger will be medically evaluated before being transported to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch wildlife sanctuary on Sunday, the City of Houston Mayor's Office said in a press release.

Conflicting accounts on how the tiger was surrendered to authorities

Victor Hugo Cuevas was the man last seen with the tiger last Sunday, and he was taken into custody Friday after a Fort Bend County judge revoked his bond on a pending, unrelated murder charge from 2017, according to prosecutors.

Michael Elliott, the man's attorney, had said the tiger did not belong to Cuevas, but rather that he had been looking after the animal for its owner. But on Saturday, Borza said the tiger belonged to Cuevas.

"It is Victor's tiger," Borza said. "That's what I was told by [Gia], and she is the wife of Victor, and she says they've had that animal for nine months."

During a press conference on Saturday, Elliott offered a conflicting account on how the tiger was finally turned in. He said the tiger, named India, was anonymously surrendered Saturday evening at the Westside Tennis Club in Houston, Texas.

Elliott said the tiger was recovered after Cuevas' wife received a phone call, on her husband's phone, from the person who had the tiger. After some discussions about how the animal could be surrendered anonymously, that handover took place around 6 p.m. at the tennis club, Elliott said.

"This has a good ending," said Elliott. "Things could have went really wrong and they didn't, and I said the animal is, is in a good safe place now, is healthy, and has been returned," he continued.

Elliott said Cuevas worked hard to find the tiger before went back to jail, and then his wife, Gia, continued the search efforts.

When Cuevas was allegedly seen with the tiger on May 9 in a West Houston neighborhood, he was out on bond on the murder charge in Fort Bend County and on a separate charge of evading arrest earlier this year in nearby Austin County.

Cuevas was arrested Monday for evading police in Harris County regarding the missing tiger and was released Wednesday on bond before the latest arrest Friday. He is currently in jail in Fort Bend County, Texas, with a $300,000 bond.

Elliott called the bond "a sizable amount of money" and said he expects the family to make a decision regarding the bond next week.

The tiger was not with him at the time of arrest, and its fate and whereabouts have captured the nation's imagination since.