The problem wasn’t that a California man had the eye of the tiger. It's that he allegedly was smuggling a whole Bengal tiger into the country.
Luis Eudoro Valencia of Perris, Calif., was charged Wednesday with smuggling and unlawful importation of wildlife after Customs and Border Protection officers noticed the tiger cub on the floor of his car.
His silver Camaro had no license plates, so officers at the Otay Mesa border crossing with Mexico pulled him over for secondary inspection. Valencia told investigators he bought the tiger for $300 from somebody who he had seen Monday in Tijuana walking an adult tiger on a leash, according to the criminal complaint.
Valencia’s passenger told investigators it was just a cat, not a tiger, according to court records. But the passenger produced paperwork from AeroMexico Cargo that indicated it was a Bengal tiger, according to court records.
A biologist at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park confirmed the animal was a tiger. The zoo confirmed Thursday it was caring for the tiger, but declined further comment because it involved a criminal case.
The market value in the U.S. for a Bengal tiger cub is about $1,500, according to the criminal complaint filed by Eduardo Nieves, an agent with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
All tigers are considered endangered species, and there are only 2,500 Bengal tigers in the wild, according to prosecutors.
To legally import an endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must issue a permit.
Prosecutors charge that Valencia didn’t have the required permit and didn’t declare the cub as he entered the country.
Valencia was released on a $10,000 bond and ordered to appear at a preliminary hearing Sept. 5 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal.