Police in Mexico are on the lookout for two tigers that escaped from a ranch in the western state of Michoacán on Sunday afternoon.
Backed by local zookeepers, police officers have been patrolling the surrounding area in car and on foot in a bid to capture the felines that are considered a risk to the population.
It is unclear who the owners are or whether they had the appropriate permits to keep the animals.
Such incidents are a regular occurrence in Mexico, where ownership of big cats is not uncommon.
Just two days earlier, another tiger escaped from a hotel where it was kept as an attraction in the neighboring state of Guerrero.
In September, authorities in Jalisco state captured yet another tiger that had escaped from a gated community in the city of Guadalajara.
In that case, the eight-month-old feline was returned to its owners, who had the documents to prove their legal ownership of the animal.
Activists criticize current laws
Animal rights activists say such incidents highlight the need to not only outlaw ownership of such animals in Mexico, but also to create a wildlife sanctuary capable of providing rescued animals with an appropriate environment.
María García Domínguez runs Libero Santuario Silvestre, a non-governmental organization that rescues mistreated animals in Mexico, and hopes to open her own wildlife sanctuary in the central state of Morelos in the near future.
She told Latin Correspondent that it’s easy to buy exotic animals in Mexico, whether legally or on the black market: “If you have the money — about 60,000 pesos ($3,650) depending on where you go — you can buy a tiger and no one’s going to ask you where you’re going to keep it or anything. You can just take it to your house.”
Lions and tigers are the most common large felines kept as pets, but it is not unusual for wealthy Mexicans to keep pumas or even endangered native species like jaguars, García Domínguez said.
“The problem is that in Mexico the legislation is so ill-conceived that you can practically buy any animal that comes from a licensed breeder,” she noted.
Exotic animals on show
Exotic pets are particularly popular among drug traffickers, who consider them a status symbol to be flaunted on social media, but they can also be found in tourist resorts and other incongruous urban settings.
“I know of cases where people have kept seals or crocodiles in their homes… I’ve seen tigers in tiny cages in parking lots next to the subway and I’ve seen lions in restaurants,” García Domínguez said.
In popular beach resorts like Playa del Carmen and Los Cabos she said there are even people with young lion, tiger and jaguar cubs who will let tourists pose for photos with them.
“You can only control these animals for a few weeks. After that they might attack you. These are dangerous carnivores,” García Domínguez noted.
The fact that their trainers have a constant stream of young cubs on show means they must be breeding hundreds of big cats per year and then selling them on once they grow too big, she said.
Mexico’s ‘urgent need’ for a sanctuary
García Domínguez has worked to relocate mistreated animals ever since overseeing the first official rescue of a lion in Mexico 12 years ago.
At first the authorities told her to have the lion put down because they had little interest in its wellbeing and nowhere to keep it.
But after overcoming four years of legal and logistical hurdles she successfully relocated the lion to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.
After that experience, she said, “I began to feel the need to open an animal sanctuary here. These animals don’t have anywhere to go and because most of them aren’t even Mexican species the government doesn’t taken any special interest in them, so they end up in the worst places.”
These sites include small and under-funded zoos that do not have the appropriate conditions do house such animals, García Domínguez explained.
The need for a real sanctuary in Mexico where the animals will have the diet, space and care that they require is “urgent,” she affirmed.
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