In May of this year, US Border Control agents discovered something rather unexpected in a duffle bag abandoned near the banks of the Rio Grande near Brownsville, Texas. According to an agency statement, the immigration enforcers had been deployed to the area because someone spotted three people attempting to cross the US border from Mexico, and though the exact turn of events is unclear, the individuals ended up heading back the way they came but the luggage they were toting was left behind.
Upon opening the bag, agents were shocked to find a live male tiger cub inside. Agent Robert Rodriguez told Associated Press that the exotic cat, estimated to be three to four months old at the time, appeared calm and was possibly sedated.
As the tiger obviously needed expert care, he was placed in the care of the nearby Gladys Porter Zoo until a more permanent solution could be found.
Now, more than two months after his rescue, the gorgeous critter is finally settling into his new home. As reported by Newsweek, last week the cub was transferred to In-Sync Exotics – a non-profit big cat sanctuary located in Wylie, Texas. Information regarding what subspecies he belongs to has not been released. Depending on who you ask – there is much debate in the biological community on this issue – the populations of Panthera tigris that are found throughout mainland Asia and the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Bali represent anywhere between two and seven distinct subtypes.
Regardless, all kinds of tiger are valuable on the wildlife black market. Havocscope, a site that compiles the going prices of illegally traded items, estimates that live tigers sell for anywhere between $3,200 and $50,000. And despite increasing crackdown on poaching and trafficking across the world, through both boots-on-the-ground enforcement and stricter laws, the industry remains the world’s most lucrative global crime after drugs, human trafficking, and arms dealing; generating $23 billion in illicit revenue per year, according to the World Economic Forum.
Though the scale of animal trafficking is still depressingly staggering (CITES found that more than 2.3 million live birds and reptiles alone were traded each year between 2005 to 2009), several recent stories have highlighted that happy endings are possible when responsible humans step in.
One impressive example: In June, Interpol announced that an international sting operation code-named “Thunderstorm” identified 1,400 criminals and led to the rescue of thousands of live creatures that would have otherwise been sold as pets or butchered for use in traditional medicine. Their press release states that the worldwide seizures included 27,000 reptiles, almost 4,000 birds, 48 primates, and 14 big cats.