Tiger seized in federal operation housed in Alpine rescue facility

SAN DIEGO -- A 450-pound Bengal tiger seized as part of a federal operation targeting wildlife smuggling is being cared for at an animal rescue facility in San Diego County, officials said Friday.

Tiger recovered during Operation Jungle Book. Charges were recently filed against 16 defendants in connection with Operation Jungle Book – the largest wildlife trafficking-related sweep in Southern California history. The operation was given its name due to the volume and variety of animals that were seized recently in the Los Angeles area. Photo by USFWS.

The tiger was purchased in March 2014 from an Indiana organization called Wildlife In Need, Wildlife Indeed by a man who allegedly used false documentation to make the buy for a rapper friend, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Nicholas Bishop, also known as "Nick the Wrangler," was arrested Thursday on federal charges of being involved in the illegal sale and transportation of the tiger that was seized from a home in Ventura County, prosecutors said.

Tiger recovered during Operation Jungle Book. Charges were recently filed against 16 defendants in connection with Operation Jungle Book – the largest wildlife trafficking-related sweep in Southern California history. The operation was given its name due to the volume and variety of animals that were seized recently in the Los Angeles area. Photo by CDFW.

The 27-year-old defendant was named in a criminal complaint filed late last month that charges him with the felony offense of aiding and abetting the purchase of a prohibited wildlife species. The state of California also prohibits the possession of tigers and other large cats, although certain licensed individuals and organizations have exceptions.

Bishop -- who currently lives in Hollandale, Florida, but at the time of the offense lived in Henderson, Nevada -- told investigators he purchased the tiger for Michael Ray Stevenson, a Compton rapper who uses the stage name Tyga, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In April 2014, the tiger was seen in a backyard in Ventura and reported to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which later located and seized the animal. Two people who possessed the tiger were convicted in state court, officials said.

When it was recovered, the tiger weighed about 100 pounds; it now weighs about 450 pounds, prosecutors said.

The tiger, named Maverick, has been cared for at Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine since it was seized in 2014, according to founder and director Bobbi Brink.

Federal officials announced the case Friday as part of Operation Jungle Book, a law enforcement initiative led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that resulted in criminal charges against defendants across the Southland.

Tiger recovered during Operation Jungle Book. Charges were recently filed against 16 defendants in connection with Operation Jungle Book – the largest wildlife trafficking-related sweep in Southern California history. The operation was given its name due to the volume and variety of animals that were seized recently in the Los Angeles area. Photo by CDFW.

Those facing charges allegedly participated in the illegal importation and/or transportation of numerous animal species -- including monitor lizards, cobras, Asian "lucky" fish, exotic songbirds and several coral species.

"We are combating an ever-growing black market for exotic animals. An insatiable desire to own examples -- both living and dead -- of these vulnerable creatures is fueling this black market," acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown said.

"This is a truly international problem that threatens the survival of iconic species and vulnerable animal populations," she said. "The U.S. Attorney's Office is prosecuting a wide array of cases that highlight the pervasive problem of wildlife trafficking and the associated issues of invasive species, disease transmission and the extinction of certain species."

Some of the animals that were recovered are currently being cared for by the San Diego Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, the Turtle Conservancy, and the STAR Eco Station.