(HOUSTON) -- A young tiger found caged in an abandoned home in Houston has been transported to a wildlife sanctuary where he is free to explore the scenery as he pleases.
The large cat was found last week by a man who had ventured into the home to smoke marijuana, Houston Police spokeswoman Kese Smith told ABC News after the incident. The tiger was found in deplorable conditions, with his cage covered layers of his own feces and dirty metal bowls with food and water, Noelle Almrud, the director of the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, where the tiger has been relocated, told ABC News. He did not appear to be malnourished but is overweight -- most likely due to lack of exercise, Almrud said.
Congratulations to our @BARC_Houston— City of Houston (@HoustonTX) February 12, 2019
Animal Enforcement Officers on a job well done. Earlier Monday, they followed up on an anonymous tip from a concerned citizen regarding a tiger.https://t.co/AAv71RCtUr pic.twitter.com/ComVF8JZS0
The estimated 350-pound tiger was transported to the facility, an affiliate of the Humane Society of the United States, on Wednesday afternoon, and is settling in well, Almrud said. There, he will have the chance to roam in enclosures of up to three acres.
While the journey to a new home was stressful for the tiger, Almrud, who estimates him to be about 2 years old, described the moment he first walked onto the grass at the sanctuary as remarkable.
"It was just amazing to see him walk out on grass and to see him explore and have that freedom of movement," she said. "It was just such a reward and fulfilling to us."
Now, he spends his days rolling around the grass in glee, Almrud said.
The tiger, who will be quarantined for 30 days, seems to be comfortable around humans, and "chucks it up regularly" to his caregivers, which is the sound tigers make to communicate, Almrud said.
"He comes right up to the fence every time a staff member is present," she said. "He seems very amenable to our presence."
The tiger is eating well -- a combination of chicken, humanely raised non-processed beef and whole prey compete with organs and bones. It appears that he was being fed chicken, which is what owners of exotic cats often feed them, but chicken alone does not provide the complete nutrition they need to thrive, Almrud said.
In addition, caregivers are tasked with keeping the tiger mentally stimulated by creating "pretend hunting" games and rotating him through different areas so he has access to new smells and environments to explore.
"He seems to happy and content," Almrud said. "Our staff is just falling in love with him."
The sanctuary, which currently has temporary legal custody of the tiger, is waiting until the Harris County District Attorney's Office grants it full ownership to name the tiger, Almrud said. Once full ownership is granted -- Almrud hopes within the next few weeks -- the tiger will be sedated, undergo a full exam and be castrated, because "any reputable facility is non-breeding," she added.
Since tigers are normally solitary in the wild, the sanctuary likely will not introduce him to its two other tigers living on the property: Charlie, who was rescued from a breeder in 2016, and Alex, a former pet who arrived in 2014, Almrud said.
Private citizens are not capable of adequately caring for tigers and other exotic cats due to lack of space or understanding of the animal's physical and emotional needs, Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, told ABC News.
"These are dangerous wild animals," Block said. "These are not puppies or kittens."
In addition, the animals pose a great danger to the humans they are around, and it's often children who inadvertently become their victims, likely because they look like small prey, Block said, She recalled one child who became blinded by the swipe of a tiger's paw and another who died after a tiger bit its head.
"They don't see a playmate. They're doing what they are instinctively [told to do]," she said. "It's not something that you train out of them."
Currently, only 35 states have laws banning private ownership of big cats, and Texas, which is estimated to have the second-largest tiger population in the world, is not one of them, Block said. She is seeking a solution in the form of federal legislation and hopes to reintroduce the Big Cat Public Safety Act during this congressional session, she said.
"It’s a measure to address the plight of thousands of wild animals kept privately as pets or languishing in substandard and unaccredited zoos, and prevent future ownership of big cats by unqualified and unprepared individuals," Block wrote on her blog on the Humane Society's website. "Its provisions would establish proper exemptions for qualified parties, and is a levelheaded approach to an animal welfare and public safety threat that has, unfortunately, grown worse in recent years. We badly need a national framework to bring the trade in wild animals under firm regulatory control."
While it is illegal to own a tiger within Houston city limits, it is unclear if authorities have identified any suspects in this case.
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