Dealing with stray tigers, lions becomes routine for Juarez officials

Border Report Tour

Rescue of Thor the tiger latest episode in border city where incidents involving big cats — and a crocodile or two — have been reported in each of the past few years

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Juarez is riding the attention garnered by the rescue of a 5-month-old tiger cub to promote animal adoptions.

Animal shelter employees on Dec. 18 retrieved Thor the tiger from the streets of Juarez after he escaped from captivity. Thor received three meals a day and got to exercise and play with shelter employees until his owner, a veterinary student, showed the proper paperwork and took him home on Monday.

“The young man (the owner) is specializing in (the care) of wild animals. He got Thor when he was 4 weeks old. Thor was born in captivity and has lost the ability to hunt. He is now used to being with humans,” said Margarita Peña, director of Juarez’s Ecology Department.

She said it’s not a good idea to have big cats such as tigers in an urban environment, but Mexican law does allow it.

When asked by Border Report how many tigers, leopards or jaguars are being kept in private property in Juarez — a city of 1.5 million people across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas — Peña referred the question to federal government officials. However, “as veterinarians, we see or treat these types of animals more and more often,” she said.

Margarita Peña shows the bruises left by Thor during the tiger cub’s stay at the Juarez animal shelter. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

She said Thor displayed a playful attitude in the 10 days he was in the shelter. But on Tuesday, she showed the bruises the cub left on her right forearm. “These animals will always have a savage instinct […] even playing, he did this to us. These are animals that will grow to weigh hundreds (of pounds). They can hurt a child or an elderly person just by playing,” Peña said.

Shelter employees this year have rescued 151 “exotic” animals from the streets of Juarez, Peña said. That includes eight hawks, nine snakes, three badgers, three bats, two coyotes, a pelican and the tiger. Some animals were returned to their owners, other adopted and the rest — including the bats and the coyotes — released in the wild.

Peña urged border residents to adopt “more conventional” pets instead, such as one of the 221 dogs and 58 cats that have passed through the shelter this year.

Juarez officials have had their share of encounters with big cats in the past few years. In 2018, a man was critically injured by two tigers and two lions he kept as pets. And in 2017, Mexican police raided a home where they found a baby lion, a baby tiger, two grown tigers and a crocodile illegally kept in a home, according to Mexican press reports.

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