Brownsville, Texas — A new South Texas zoo exhibit aims at educating the public about the dangers of trafficking wild animals. The announcement comes two weeks after U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered a tiger cub in a duffel bag near the Mexico border.
Past the muntjac enclosure, near the colorful peacock and next to the goats, visitors were excited to see the newest member of the Gladys Porter Zoo family: the Bengal tiger cub.
The playful and seemingly friendly cat is nothing but pure muscle with an underdeveloped predatory instinct.
But it’s what’s displayed next to the still-unnamed feline that caught local resident Cesar Mejia’s attention.
“I think it’s horrible that somebody would… first of wall want to have a baby tiger, and secondly, just to abandon it like they did,” he said.
An exhibit displaying a variety of products from furs to shoes, bags and decorative pieces. The items are made from animals that are illegal to either own or purchase. In the case of the tiger, traffic or smuggle.
On April 30, Border Patrol agents found a black duffel bag that was abandoned by three people after they were spotted trying to cross into the country illegally. Inside the bag was a 3-month-old cub, which was sedated and beginning to hyperventilate.
“30 more minutes before the Border Patrol found the animal, brought it to us, or however long it was being carried in that bag, this animal would be dead,” noted Gladys Porter Zoo Senior Veterinarian Dr. Thomas De Maar.
Dr. De Maar said it’s the first time he’s heard of a tiger being smuggled north into the U.S., and the 12th tiger brought to the zoo in the last 10 years in bizarre circumstances.
“One of them was for sale illegally; someone tried to sell it on Facebook. Another group of tigers was product of a divorce,” he recalled.
It is the way the wild animals are handled that could pose a danger to the public, said Dr. De Maar.
“It is not illegal in the state of Texas to own a tiger, providing you fulfill certain requirements,” he noted. “Bottom line is it doesn’t make a good pet.”
Although it’s not certain how many tigers exist in Texas, Dr. De Maar and others estimate the population to be second only to India.
“I hope that the foot traffic that walks through here that they take the time to read,” said Mejia.
The exhibit includes information on how animals are exploited in the black market. Zookeepers want visitors like Mejia to take this opportunity to learn about how the cub ended up in their care.
The exhibit will be up for seven more weeks or until the tiger outgrows the enclosure.