A man charged with murder who was the reported caretaker of a tiger that terrified a Houston residential neighborhood was arrested Monday — but the tiger remains unfound, police said.
Victor Hugo Cuevas, 26, was charged with evading arrest for fleeing police officers who had arrived at the scene following frightened calls from residents. The man was eventually taken into custody at his parents' home in the suburb of Richmond, KPRC-TV reported.
The large cat began roaming the streets and scared residents after it apparently got loose from the home it was being kept as a pet. At one point the tiger came within a few feet of a nearby homeowner.
"My main concern right now is focusing on finding him and finding the tiger because what I don’t want him to do is harm that tiger. We have plenty of places we can take that tiger and keep it safe and give it a home for the rest of its life," Houston police Cmdr. Ron Borza said during a news conference.
The incident occurred around 8 p.m. on Sunday night, Fox 59 reports. According to footage that appeared on social media, the tiger was wearing a collar and was likely a pet. It came face-to-face with an armed off-duty Waller County sheriff’s deputy, police said.
The deputy can be seen yelling at the tiger's owner to get the cat back inside.
When officers arrived, the animal's caretaker put the tiger in a white Jeep Cherokee and drove off, Borza said. A short pursuit followed, but Cuevas got away, police said. When he was later aprehended, he said he did not own the tiger, KPRC reported.
Cuevas' lawyer, Michael Elliott, told the station that his client planned on surrendering himself at the Harris County jail but was arrested before he could do so. He said Cuevas is working with authorities to locate the owner of the tiger.
Video of the incident was uploaded to Twitter by Michael Schwab. It appears to have been filmed from inside a house by a woman who is nervously watching as the tiger sits on a neighbor’s yard. The tiger suddenly gets up and starts walking towards the deputy.
The deputy then pulls out a gun as the tiger approaches him and comes within a few feet. Fortunately, in the footage, the man was not attacked.
Cuevas was charged with murder in November in nearby Fort Bend County and was out on $250,000 bond. He was taken to the Fort Bend County jail for violating his bond, the station reported.
He also apparently has monkeys in his home, Borza said.
Having a monkey is not illegal in Houston if the animal is under 30 pounds. Tigers are not allowed within the Houston city limits unless the handler, such as a zoo, is licensed to have exotic animals.
In 2019, some people who went into an abandoned Houston home to smoke marijuana found a caged tiger. The tiger’s owner was later ordered to pay for the animal’s care at an East Texas wildlife refuge.
"If that tiger was to get out and start doing some damage yesterday, I’m sure one of these citizens would have shot the tiger," Borza said. "We have plenty of neighbors out here with guns and we don’t want to see that. It’s not the animal’s fault. It’s the breeder’s fault. It’s unacceptable."
In a statement about the incident, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said tigers are not pets and are often exploited and bred by owners.
"Tigers aren’t animal companions," the animal rights group said. "They’re unpredictable predatory animals who shouldn’t be forced to live in someone’s home."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.