Tiger found wandering in Conroe 'having fun' exploring new home at animal sanctuary

WISE COUNTY, Texas – The "friendly" female tiger found wandering in a Conroe neighborhood has found a new home. The animal was taken to the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary on Wednesday. 

Animal caretakers say she is having fun exploring her new home and will be bonding with animal behaviorist Louis Dorfman and staff members in the coming days.

The tiger made national headlines after it was found wandering around Coral Cove Pass on April 21. It was wearing a leash and a collar when it crossed paths with a couple walking in the area.

Jonathan Gessner, 19, and his girlfriend, Erin Poole, encountered what they expected would be a wild animal, and at first they were frightened.  Gessner said the big cat was crouching in a menacing way. But what happened next, just blew his mind.

"She runs up to me, jumped on me and put her paws on my shoulders and just starts licking my face like a dog. I thought it was pretty cool," Gessner said.

After being flooded with calls about the animal on the streets, Conroe police and animal control came to retrieve the animal. They, too, were surprised at how tame she was, but said it was still dangerous for her to be wandering in public. 

Authorities then began to search for the owner.

The owner of a tiger, Cody Tibbitts, came forward and was hoping to reunited with his cat.

Tibbitts says he got the animal from a friend who said the tiger was being neglected while in someone else's care.

"I've been doing my best to get this situated and everything like that," he said.

Tibbitts said he moved the tiger because of recent flooding and was transporting it to a friend's place when it escaped.

"She was basically almost walking in water. She could not stay on that property no longer. So I decided to send her to a buddy's house," said Tibbitts.

Tibbitts got a call later saying the animal was gone.

Shortly after Tibbitts was found and lost custody of the animal, a man tried to steal the tiger from the Conroe Animal Shelter in the 400 block of  Sgt. Ed Holcomb Boulevard just after 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. Police said the person was not able to get into the area where the tiger was being kept.

Surveillance cameras captured the person entering the shelter and attempting to break into several areas of the shelter.

KPRC 2 spoke with Tibbitts, who said he expected everyone to think it was him in the surveillance photos, but he said he didn't do it.

"I think it had to do with an animal rights group. They'll go to any extent to release the animal into the wild," he said.

The tiger is now in good hands.

Conroe has ordinances against owning ‘dangerous animals’ and judge Michael Davis issued temporary custody to the city with the understanding that the tiger would be sent to International Exotic Animal Sanctuary, an AZA Certified Related Facility.

“This young tiger has had an unsettled life with no ability to find contentment in a permanent residence. It will be our job and responsibility to make her secure, comfortable, and contented as soon as possible, so she can have the best life possible in captivity," Dorfman said.

After being checked out by the veterinary staff, the tiger will be kept in quarantine until she is moved to her permanent habitat.

IEAS would like to encourage everyone to donate towards caring for tigers like this. Depending upon the time of year, the facility can easily go through 200 to 300 lbs. of meat a day for feeding the animal residents. Every donation counts and helps care for and feed the 75 animal residents of IEAS. Contact the sanctuary for more details at 214-361-1660