An American teenager is facing up to 20 years in prison for smuggling a Bengal tiger into the United States.
The California resident who was arraigned on Thursday told a judge that he bought his ferocious pet on the streets of Tijuana in Mexico, an infamous location where several endangered animals were spotted earlier this year.
Border patrol officials testified that Luis Eudoro Valencia was caught with the animal on Wednesday.
Image taken Aug. 23, 2017 was released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The picture shows an agent holding a male tiger cub which they confiscated at the U.S. border crossing at Otay Mesa southeast of downtown San Diego early Wednesday.
In co-operation with the San Diego Zoo, officials from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service took custody of the cub and are jointly taking care of it.
Valencia, an American citizen, had carefully hidden the angry cub on the floor of a car traveling from Mexico to California on that day.
Speaking at a court trial, the suspect who lives in Perris, confessed to buying the Bengal tiger for $300.
The unidentified seller was described as someone he met in the Mexican border area with a giant tiger on a leash.
Valencia, an 18-year-old with a driver’s licence, was caught with the dangerous pet during an inspection at San Diego’s Otay Mesa border crossing, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.
A similar incident occurred earlier in January this year when police in Mexico were informed of a man walking with a full-sized tiger on a dog leash in Tijuana, the location where Valencia bought his cub.
Following the tip-off from residents, Mexican authorities discovered that the man’s four-month-old tiger had been living together with his children at a private home. The animal was seized.
In April, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Mexican officials seized a nine-month-old Bengal tiger in Tijuana after the cub fell from a third-floor terrace onto a neighbor’s patio.
After the seizure, officials said the tiger was in good health despite falling from such height.
Mexican drug lords are notorious for keeping big cats as pets.
However, the government 2015 enactment which prohibited such “luxuries” has seen drug bosses trying to sell off or discard those exotic animals.
All species of tigers are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Importing an endangered species into the United States requires a permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and a declaration filed with the agency.
Prosecutors say Valencia committed a serious offense for lacking both declaration documents and an official permit to own such animals.
He was released on a $10,000 bond and ordered to appear for a preliminary hearing on September 5 at San Diego’s federal court.