When inspectors at the Otay Mesa port of entry in San Diego spotted the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro early Wednesday morning, they flagged the vehicle for issues with its vehicle identification number.
The car was being driven by an 18-year-old US citizen named Luis Eudoro Valencia, and an animal was seen under the passenger’s legs. A US Fish and Wildlife agent said in a court document that, "The inspector asked if the animal was a tiger. The passenger advised that it was not a tiger but just a cat."
Paperwork was found confirming that the beast was in fact a Bengal tiger that was shipped to Mexico earlier this week. Photos were found on Valencia’s phone of a secret car compartment built specifically for smuggling animals and keeping them hidden.
Mexican authorities in Tijuana have seized several tigers this year, and Valencia later admitted that be bought the cub from someone in Tijuana who he saw with an adult tiger for $300.
Mexican drug lords are known to keep the large animals as pets, and after a 2015 law went into effect banning exotic animals as circus acts, circuses in the country have been trying to get rid of them.
CBP San Diego field operations director Pete Flores said in a statement, 'CBP officers are often faced with unusual situations … The CBP officers at the Otay Mesa port of entry met the challenge head on and assisted in preserving the life of this endangered species.'
After being put in custody of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the cub is now being cared for at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The Endangered Species Act protects all species of tigers, and a person must file a declaration with and receive a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to bring an endangered species into the the US.
According to prosecutors, Valencia was found to have neither. Valencia was ordered to appear for a September 5 preliminary hearing in San Diego federal court after being released on $10,000 bond. The teenager could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.