Houston Police are searching for a 26-year-old man who fled from officers Sunday night with a Bengal tiger inside his SUV, authorities said.
Officers attempted to chase the white Jeep Cherokee, but they lost the vehicle. Now police are looking for the tiger, its owner, and answers as to how the man — who has been charged in a separate murder case — got his hands on the exotic animal, which is illegal to own as a pet in the city.
“Obviously if you see a Cherokee with a big tiger in it, it’d be good to call us,” Houston Police Commander Ronald Borza told reporters Monday.
Police were first notified about the animal Sunday evening, when a notice went out to neighbors via the social media app Nextdoor, Borza said. Posts on social media showed the tiger, which was wearing a collar, roaming freely in a residential street.
The animal was seen walking in the front yard of a home, at times laying down in view of neighbors. Eventually, one neighbor, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, confronted the tiger at gunpoint as the animal slowly walked toward him across the street.
“No, sir, no sir,” the deputy is seen yelling in one video as at the tiger stalks him across the street.
The deputy told local station KHOU that the tiger did not appear to be aggressive, and he did not want to shoot it during the approximately 5-minute confrontation.
“It did stalk me across the road, but it did not look super aggressive,” he told the station.
As the off-duty deputy attempted to hold the tiger at bay, the apparent owner came outside and attempted to take the animal back into the house.
“Fuck you and your fucking tiger, get the fuck back inside right now,” the off-duty deputy told the man.
“Imma get him,” the man said.
Video showed the man then hauling the tiger back inside a house, dragging it by its collar.
As police began to arrive on the scene, the owner of the tiger then fled the neighborhood with the tiger inside his SUV, authorities said.
The man was later identified by Houston Police as Victor Hugo Cuevas, a 26-year-old man who was out on bond.
Cuevas, Borza said, is currently facing an unrelated murder charge in Fort Bend County, Borza said. The case was filed in November, but authorities did not release further details in that case.
Fleeing from police, as well as being in possession of the tiger, could be a violation of his bond terms, police said.
In addition to Cuevas and the tiger, police are seeking two monkeys Cuevas is believed to own.
A spokesperson for the Houston Police Department said the location of the monkeys, and whether Cuevas also had them in the SUV, is unknown.
“We don’t know where the monkeys are,” Borza said. “My main concern right now is focusing on finding him, and finding the tiger, because what I don’t want him to do is harm the tiger.”
Monkeys are allowed in the city of Houston if they are under 30 pounds, Borza said, but tigers are not allowed within city limits.
Borza said police are investigating whether the tiger may be connected to a similar incident in 2019, where Houston police found another tiger living in the garage of a home.
“This is a small circle of people that deal with exotic animals,” he said.
Although rare, authorities in Houston are called about once a year regarding large exotic animals in the city, he said.
“It’s just not a good idea,” he said. “You never know when the animal’s gonna turn on you.”
The owner of the house where Cuevas was reportedly living told KHOU he was in the beginning stages of evicting his tenants, who had initially told him they owned no pets.