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A Bengali tiger wandered through a residential area in Houston on Sunday, terrifying homeowners – at least one of whom drew his gun – and going on a manhunt for a man who drove off with the animal and who, according to authorities, had been charged with murder and in one Murder released on bail in 2017.
The man, Victor Hugo Cuevas, 26, was taken into custody Monday night and charged with evading arrest, but the whereabouts of the tiger were still unknown, the Houston Police Department said on twitter.
“Anyone who has information about the tiger is asked to contact HPD Major Offenders,” police said in a tweet.
Eyewitness videos taped Sunday show the tiger spreading on the lawn of a house on Ivy Wall Drive in West Houston.
Classified as critically endangered, the tiger got up and took to the streets while viewers from a distance videotaped it. An off duty sheriff’s deputy who lives in the neighborhood drew a gun.
Mr. Cuevas, who the authorities said was the owner of the tiger and who leased the house, came out of the residence to correct the tiger. He kissed it as he led it away, a video showing. A lawyer for Mr Cuevas said Monday that he is not the owner of the tiger.
When police arrived, authorities said Mr. Cuevas was in a Jeep Cherokee with the Tiger, which said the driver escaped after a brief chase.
“Of course, if you see a Cherokee with a big tiger in it, it would be good to give us a call,” said Ronald Borza, a Houston Police Department commander, at a press conference Monday afternoon before Mr. Cuevas was taken into custody.
Commander Borza said a city ordinance prevents Houston residents from owning tigers and that violating them is an offense.
Authorities warned that incidents like the one on Sunday could have fatal consequences – both for people and for the banned exotic animals.
“You never know when that animal will turn you on,” said Commander Borza. “We had a lot of neighbors out here with guns.”
An arrest warrant shows that Mr. Cuevas is charged with murder when he shot a man in the parking lot of a sushi restaurant in Richmond, Texas in July 2017.
According to court records, Mr. Cuevas of Richmond was released in December pending trial for a $ 125,000 bond.
Michael W. Elliott, an attorney for Mr. Cuevas, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night. But he told The Houston Chronicle that his client didn’t own the Tiger. He said he could not elaborate on Mr Cuevas’ association with the animal.
“He was the one who captured the tiger, and that’s all we know now,” Mr. Elliott told the newspaper.
Jose Ramos, who lives next to the house where the tiger was sighted, said he called 911 after seeing the exotic animal, TV station KPRC reported.
“I mean I couldn’t believe it,” said Mr Ramos.
Emergency services weren’t entirely sure how to handle the situation, he said.
“Who should we send? The police, the fire brigade, you know the priest? “Mr. Ramos said the dispatcher told him.
Officials said Monday that there was evidence that the Bengal tiger was not the only exotic animal kept at home.
“We have reports that he has monkeys,” said Commander Borza.
Commander Borza said Houston residents can own monkeys as long as they weigh less than 30 pounds. He said it had been a few years since a resident found a tiger.
There are fewer than 2,000 Bengal tigers in the wild, according to the World Land Trust. These are usually solitary animals and use the “stalk and ambush” method to track down and attack prey.
“This is a small group of people who deal with exotic animals,” said Commander Borza. “Most of them know each other from my experience.”