SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Three years ago, a tiger cub now named Moka, was making headlines all across the country and in some parts of the world.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered the cub in the floorboard of a vehicle driven by an 18-year-old man who was attempting to smuggle the cub through the Otay Mesa Port of Entry located southeast of Downtown San Diego.
Initially, the animal was sent to the San Diego Zoo for care and it became a very popular attraction with visitors.
Months later, it was taken to an animal sanctuary east of San Diego called Lions, Tigers and Bears.
Somewhere along the line, it got the name Moka and now lives with another rescued cat named Nola from Louisiana.
“They were both the same age, so they made great roommates, now they’re best of friends,” said Bobbi Brink, founder and director for the sanctuary.
Brink said exotic animals like Moka and Nola are targets for the wrong element.
“A lot of people don’t know the exotic animal trade in our country is second to guns and weapons and human trafficking. There are hundreds of animals that need homes, the animals need our help … they are endangered species,” Brink said.
Initially, Luis Valencia then 18 years old, said he wanted to keep the tiger as a pet and had bought it on the streets of Tijuana after he saw someone walking it on a leash. Later, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and was sentenced to six months in prison.
Prosecutors argued Valencia was part of a ring exporting and selling exotic animals and showed a text to the court reportedly written by him.
“[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 he is accused of sending a fox vendor who was in the market for a tiger. “The jaguar goes for 8k and panthers too and the lions go for 5k.”
For Moka, this is a happy ending as he now lives at his “forever home.”
“He’s kind of shy but Nola is his strength. She’ll be the first one to go out and check out something then slowly but surely he’ll be right behind her,” Brink said.