WYLIE, Texas — A Houston man is now in custody after his pet Bengal tiger was seen roaming his neighborhood late Sunday evening. However, the tiger is still missing, according to the Houston Police Department.
Per Houston police, 26-year-old Victor Hugo Cuevas is now in custody, facing a felony evading arrest charge.
Cuevas' neighbors alerted authorities and the community when they saw his tiger prowling lawn to lawn Sunday night. Reportedly, it escaped after jumping a fence.
The tiger was eventually confronted by an off-duty sheriff's deputy from Waller County, who kept a gun on the animal as someone escorted the cat back inside Cuevas' residence.
Houston police said Cuevas drove away with the cat before authorities could question him. There was a brief chase, but officers lost the vehicle.
Police hope to get the tiger back before it's harmed.
Cuevas was out on bond connected with a July 2017 murder charge in Fort Bend County, records show. His bond on the murder charge will now be revoked, a department spokesperson said.
Residents are not allowed to keep tigers as pets in the City of Houston. However, permits can be provided for owners in the unincorporated portions of Harris County and other parts of Texas.
This is the second time in recent years there's been a tiger sighting in Houston.
In February of 2019, a tiger was found in an abandoned home in southeast Houston and eventually moved to an undisclosed sanctuary in Texas.
Rules and regulations regarding the ownership of wild and dangerous animals vary from county to county, but by the state's standards, it's legal to own a tiger or type of big cat privately.
All that's required is to qualify for a permit, notify local animal control or law enforcement, provide a paper copy to the state, and meet caging requirements.
Angela Culver, a spokesperson for Insycn Exotics in Wylie, says the incident in Houston underscores the need for private ownership of big cats to be outlawed.
Her rescue cares for over 70 lions, tigers, cougars, and other exotic cats that have been neglected or abandoned.
"The sad reality is that somebody can go pick up one of these guys for a few thousand dollars and take them home," Culver said. "It's dangerous for humans, and it's terrible for these cats, really."
Culver supports the Big Cat Public Safety Act that was recently re-introduced in the U.S. Senate.
If passed, the bill would "amend the Captive Wildlife Safety Act to prohibit the private possession of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars, or any hybrid of these species. This prohibition is narrowly focused on pet big cats and exempts zoos, sanctuaries, and universities. Current owners are grandfathered in and are simply required to register their animals to ensure that first responders and animal control officers are aware of the presence of such animals in their communities. H.R. 263 also restricts direct contact between the public and big cats," per the Animal Welfare Institute.
"We would love it if we didn't have to exist," Culver said. "We would love it if there were no more of these exotic animals that need to be rescued."