Responding to a report of gunfire on Tuesday, police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were hardly expecting to find an adorable but illegal tiger cub. Officers initially responded to a convenience store, where a person had been shot in the leg by a stray bullet around 2pm local time, CNN reports. While investigating, officers heard a gunshot coming from a nearby mobile home, where they arrested an armed suspect identified as Kevin Gerardo Vargas Mercado, KOAT reports. They then followed a blood trail to a second trailer, per CNN. They didn't find the source of the blood. Instead, they discovered a 20-pound, months-old Bengal tiger housed in a small dog crate, police say.
"This is definitely a first for me to hear that we've taken a tiger into custody," Darren Vaughan of the state Department of Game and Fish tells KOAT. A permit is required to possess most exotic animal species in New Mexico, but only zoos can obtain a permit to house a tiger, per CNN. Nonetheless, the department says there's been a "substantial increase in inquiries about permits to import or possess tigers associated with the practice on popular television shows," per a release. Back in August, officers were tipped off about a tiger held at an Albuquerque home, but instead found a 3-foot alligator, along with 17 guns and drugs including cocaine and fentanyl.
This tiger cub, found in good health, can't be the same one mentioned in the earlier report. The missing tiger would be a year old and between 50 and 90 pounds by now, per KOAT. The cub found Tuesday, which is now in the custody of the department, is staying at the ABQ BioPark zoo temporarily. Photos and video footage show the cub lounging in hay, drinking from a bucket of water, and playfully pawing at a person's legs. Officials say the zoo doesn't have the resources to house the tiger permanently, meaning a new home will need to be found, KOAT reports. (Read more tigers stories.)