Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue and star of the Netflix series, “Tiger King,” is offering a $5,000 reward in connection to the tiger that has been missing in Houston since Sunday, according to a video posted on her verified Instagram account.
Baskin is offering the money to whoever has the big cat, provided that person will release the animal to a sanctuary that is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and will work with the authorities to convict the people involved in the buying and selling of the tiger, Baskin says in the video.
The Bengal tiger was seen strolling in front of a Houston home Sunday before being put in an SUV and allegedly driven away by Victor Hugo Cuevas, who was out of jail on bail for an unrelated murder charge.
The whereabouts of the tiger is currently unknown.
Cuevas posted a $50,000 bond Wednesday over the tiger incident, after he was charged with evading arrest/detention with a vehicle.
His attorney, Michael Elliott, held a news conference outside the Fort Bend County jail with Cuevas by his side.
They maintained that Cuevas is not the owner of the tiger, who they said is a 9-month-old male named “India.”
“(The police) saw my client go out in the yard and retrieve the tiger and they’ve assumed he’s done a whole lot of different things that he necessarily has not done and not guilty of, just like they assumed that the tiger is his,” Elliott argued. “It of course is not.”
Elliott stressed they were working to locate the animal but would not say where his client, who was last seen with the tiger, drove Sunday night with India inside an SUV.
“We are both very anxious and looking forward to doing everything we can do to find India,” he said. “We want to find India.”
The Houston Police Department continues to investigate the location and status of the tiger. Officials have not given any reason to believe the tiger is on the loose or roaming the streets, and there is no indication the investigation has extended beyond Houston. Police characterize this situation as an “ongoing investigation,” and that any updates will come through its Twitter account.
Owning a tiger is a violation of Houston law, a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum $500 fine, but it is legal under Texas state law with certain restrictions.
Cuevas was previously charged with murder for allegedly shooting and killing a man in 2017. Court documents allege he has been in multiple violations of his bail since he was arrested.
Prosecutors have asked a judge to revoke Cuevas’ bail for the murder charge. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.
A startling sight in Houston
Jose Ramos, a resident in the Houston neighborhood where the incident took place, was eating a meal Sunday night when he looked out the window and saw a tiger sitting in his front yard.
“I had to pinch myself,” he said in an interview with CNN. “Was this real?”
Ramos cautiously went outside to get a closer look. “It seemed a bit skittish,” he said. “But he was making full eye contact with me.”
An off-duty deputy who lives nearby showed up after seeing some photos of the tiger Ramos had posted on a neighborhood email forum, Ramos said.
The deputy had his weapon trained on the tiger when Cuevas came out of a nearby house, pleading with the deputy not to shoot the tiger, Ramos said. “He sounded very stressed out, very anguished by the mere fact that the deputy was aiming at the tiger and ready to shoot him.”
A man – identified by police as Cuevas – grabbed the tiger and tried to move it away from others, as seen in video captured by Maria Torres and provided to CNN affiliate KTRK.
As police units responded, Cuevas put the tiger in a white SUV and drove off, according to Houston Police Commander Ron Borza.
Cuevas is charged with evading arrest/detention with a vehicle, according to Fort Bend County Jail records.
What to do when faced by a tiger
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Baskin praised the off-duty deputy for his response when confronting the tiger.
“I was so impressed with the deputy that showed up on the scene because he did exactly the right thing, and he showed amazing restraint in not shooting that tiger,” Baskin said.
“He kept eye contact, he backed away slowly. A tiger, if you look down, if you turn, if that neighbor had run back to his door, that triggers their instinct to kill.”
Baskin said those in the neighborhood who were near the tiger were in “extreme danger.”
“Tigers are hardwired to roam hundreds of square miles, so there’s no cage that’s going to be sufficient for them,” she said.
“The only reason that people have tigers as pets is to try to show off to others.”