All together now: Awwwwww. An update on the confiscated tiger cub

Healthy and rambunctious, the tiger cub that was confiscated at the Otay Mesa port of entry is now on display at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


Just one week after being discovered on the floor of a car that was crossing at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, an illegally trafficked tiger cub is alive and well and cultivating a fan base at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido.

The male cub was taken to the Safari Park on Aug. 23 after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered him while searching the car driven by 18-year-old Luis Eudoro Valencia.

After an examination at the Safari Park’s Paul Harter Veterinary Hospital, the tiger cub — who is about six weeks old — was transferred to the Ione and Paul Harter Animal Care Center. The rambunctious cub acclimated so quickly, he went on display to the public within a few days.


Safari Park visitors can see him through the nursery window at the Animal Care Center, located in Nairobi Village. Odds are good the cub will be doing something worth watching.

“He is teething, so he is chewing on everything he can get ahold of. We have given him enrichment in terms of toys, stuffed animals and chew toys that you would give a puppy,” said Autumn Nelson, animal care supervisor for the Safari Park’s mammal department.

“He is practicing his stalking behavior and wrestling. That’s where the stuffed animals come in handy. His favorite is the stuffed giraffe. He climbs on it and cuddles with it.”

It is up to U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials to determine the cub’s permanent home, so the Safari Park hasn’t given him a name yet. But he has already made a big impression.

He is very comfortable around people and took to bottle feeding right away, leading the park’s animal-care staff to believe he was probably hand-raised. Nursery keepers mimic a mother tiger’s grooming habits by giving him baths with a cotton ball, and he is getting a lot of play time with the staff.


The cub weighed a little over six pounds when he was discovered. Thanks to his six daily feedings of carnivore formula, he was up to 7.7 pounds by Tuesday. As he gets older, he could end up joining the park’s other tigers in the Tiger Trail exhibit.

“Developmentally, he is fine,” Nelson said. “He is where a cub would be if he was with his mother.”

Like most tigers that are bought and sold in the private sector, the cub is likely part Bengal and part Amur tiger. All species of tigers are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and it is illegal to purchase or own them without a permit.

The man who had this cub in his car said he planned to take the young tiger to his home in Perris to keep as a pet. He was charged in federal court in San Diego for the alleged smuggling attempt.

“Bengals can grow to 400 or 500 pounds. They are quite large,” Nelson said. “When these big cats are babies, they are cute and playful, and people think they would be a fun pet. But they grow up and they need space and a special diet and special care.

“A lot of times, animals in the pet trade are given away. Wildlife trade and trafficking have become so rampant, and the animals are the ones who suffer because of it.”


Twitter: @karla_peterson