Tiger Cub in Border Smuggling Case Finds Permanent Home in Alpine Sanctuary

A tiger cub has found a permanent home months after he was confiscated at the California-Mexico border, zoo officials announced on Wednesday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to send Moka, which means “chance” in Hindi, to the Lions Tigers and Bears sanctuary in Alpine, according to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

The park provided the cub medical care and shelter after he was rescued on Aug. 23 at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, officials said.

A tiger cub is seen in photos released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Aug. 24, 2017.

A tiger cub is seen in photos released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Aug. 24, 2017.

Moka was only a few weeks old at the time, according to the San Diego Zoo.

Officers found the cub on the floor of the front passenger side of the Chevy Camaro driven by Luis Eudoro Valencia, an 18-year-old from Perris, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.

The passenger on the seat claimed that he was “just a cat,” according to a criminal complaint.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials responded to the border crossing and transported the cub to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where a biologist confirmed he was a tiger, the complaint said.

Valencia told authorities he purchased the cub for $300 from someone “walking a full-sized tiger on a leash” in Tijuana and intended to keep the animal as a pet, according to the complaint. But investigators later found text messages showing the teen made arrangements to buy the cub.

Valencia pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally import tigers and was sentenced to six months in prison in February, the San Diego-Union Tribune reported.

The passenger, 21-year-old Eriberto Paniagua of Perris, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to six months in prison in March, court records showed.

A 9-week-old Sumatran tiger cub, left, greets an approximately 7-week-old Bengal tiger cub at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Ione and Paul Harter Animal Care Center Sept. 11, 2017. (Credit: Christina Simmons / San Diego Zoo Safari Park)

A 9-week-old Sumatran tiger cub, left, greets an approximately 7-week-old Bengal tiger cub at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Ione and Paul Harter Animal Care Center Sept. 11, 2017. (Credit: Christina Simmons / San Diego Zoo Safari Park)

“We’ve been caring for rescued tiger cub, Moka, during the trial process regarding the smuggling incident,” San Diego Zoo said in a Facebook post. “Now that the trial is over, U.S. Fish and Wildlife has decided his long-term care will be at local sanctuary Lions, Tigers, and Bears.”

The park also released a video saying a Sumatran tiger named Rakan, “friend” in Malay, has been helping Moka develop tiger skills.

Rakan—flown in from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. after being rejected by his mother— “needed a buddy too,” according to the zoo.

While at the facility, Moka had to undergo emergency surgery for an intestinal problem, park officials said, but he soon recovered with Rakan’s help.

Rakan, a candidate for a Sumatran tiger conservation program, would remain at the park, according to zoo officials.

They said due to medical challenges, Moka was not a good fit for breeding programs that ensure the survival of the species. The rescue cub also appeared to be a hybrid of multiple tiger species.

“Moka and Rakan are tiger buddies, but that’s only because they’re still young,” the zoo said. “As they grow older, tigers become solitary and they would eventually be separated. Because Moka is not a candidate breeding programs, his best home is at a non-breeding sanctuary.”

The zoo said: “We’ve all come to love #RescueCub and he’ll certainly be missed, but we are so happy that he now has a forever home.”