Baby tiger found during smuggling attempt at Otay Mesa border

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SAN DIEGO - U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers rescued a Bengal tiger cub from a teenager who attempted to bring it into San Diego from Mexico Wednesday morning.

An 18-year-old Perris man pulled up to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry Wednesday around 1:30 a.m. in a 2017 Chevy Camaro, with a 21-year-old man in the passenger seat, CPB official reported. They told an officer they had nothing to declare from Mexico, authorities said. Due to issues with the vehicle identification number, the vehicle was referred to a secondary inspection area.

CBP officers discovered a baby tiger lying on the floor of the front passenger side. The passenger told inspectors the animal was just a cat, according to an affidavit filed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Eduardo Nieves.

Officers removed the cub and placed it in an animal crate.

The driver, identified in a federal complaint as Luis Eudoro Valencia, was arrested and taken to Metropolitan Correctional Center.  Valencia was released after posting a $10,000 bond and has a Sept. 5 preliminary hearing scheduled.

Agents from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service took the tiger, which is now recovering at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Renowned animal expert and San Diego Zoo ambassador Joan Embery says the endangered species needs proper care when not in the wild.

All species of tigers, including Bengal tigers, are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

CBP officials said 20 years ago was the last known time an attempted smuggling of a tiger happened at the San Diego-Mexico border. That tiger was later named "Blanca" and lived at San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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