When border agents found a tiger cub riding shotgun in his Camaro last August, Luis Eudoro Valencia told them he’d bought the cub on a whim in Tijuana.
Prosecutors, however, told a different story, painting Valencia, 18, as an experienced exotic animal smuggler with a cell phone full of texts about selling smuggled monkeys and tigers brought across the border from Mexico, according The San Diego Union Tribune.
“(T)he monkeys I get them for 2500 and the white tigers for 6k, I mean regular tigers, the white one goes for 10k,” reads one text message presented in court. “The jaguar goes for 8k and panthers too and the lions go for 5k.”
On Tuesday, Valencia – who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally import tigers – received a six-month prison sentence for smuggling the 6-week-old tiger cub, reported CBS News.
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The cub, named Moka, now lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, reported the network. A Border Patrol canine found Moka on Aug. 23 on the passenger-side floorboards of Valencia’s car at the San Ysidro, Calif., border crossing. The cub had been sedated.
Valencia initially tried to pass it off as an ordinary house cat, according to KNSD, and claimed he’d bought it for $300 after seeing another tiger being walked on a leash in Tijuana. Defense attorneys called the incident a lapse in judgment by a young man seeking an exotic pet, but prosecutors accused Valencia of selling smuggled animals for thousands of dollars.
Earlier this month, Mexican authorities found a 2-month-old Bengal tiger cub in a shipping box at the Tlaquepaque airport, reported Mexico News Daily. The cub was being sent from Guadalajara to Querétaro inside a plastic container. Authorities opened the box after hearing noises inside. Another tiger and a jaguar also were seized by authorities elsewhere in Mexico this month.
Smuggling exotic animals has become a lucrative business in Mexico, where cartel leaders keep entire menageries on their estates, according to the BBC.