A rare white Siberian tiger cub valued at $45,000 was at the San Diego Zoo on Thursday after being confiscated by U.S. Customs agents who found it playing in the back seat of a car headed for Mexico.
“She’s really darling,” said zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett. The cub is very healthy, weighs about 15 pounds and is 16 to 18 weeks old, Jouett said. It has blue eyes, a pink nose and brown stripes.
The cub is a specimen of an endangered species--there are only about 200 Siberian tigers left in the wild--and is very tame around people, Jouett said. “She’s very playful, she’s had a lot of human contact,” he added.
The cub, which will be quarantined at San Diego Zoo for 30 days, was found during a routine inspection Tuesday morning when Customs agents pulled over a vehicle at the San Ysidro border that was heading for Mexico, said Bobbie Cassidy, a Customs spokeswoman. “The inspector pulled this one car over, and there was this tiger,” she said.
It is illegal to export an endangered species without a federal permit, Cassidy said. This case is also unusual because most exotic-animal seizures at the border involve birds and reptiles being smuggled into the United States.
Customs agents have made no arrests and have decided not to prosecute, Cassidy said. She declined to give further information about the seizure.
The case and the cub have been turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which may decide to prosecute after it finishes its investigation.
Federal officials gave the cub to the zoo, where it will remain unless the Fish and Wildlife Service decides to move it to another location, Jouett said.
Jouett said there are about 200 Siberian tigers in the Ussuri region of the Soviet Union. About 60 white tigers are in collections throughout the world, he said.
White tigers, sometimes called “ghost tigers,” are the result of inbreeding in the wild and are usually larger than normal tigers.
A white Bengal tiger was at the San Diego Zoo in May, 1984, on loan from the Cincinnati Zoo, Jouett said. The San Diego Zoo does not have any white tigers because they do not survive well, Jouett said.