TEXAS – More than 250 miles from Houston, just east of Tyler in the town of Murchison, sits the Black Beauty Ranch. It’s part of the Humane Society of the United States.
The 1,400-acre property is home to more than 800 animals, including lions, tigers, and yes, even bears.
But since 2022 is the year of the tiger, senior director Noelle Almrud took KPRC2 on a drive around the wildlife sanctuary. It’s our second visit to see the three Texas tigers.
February marks three years since the sanctuary gained ownership of Loki. The 320-pound cat was rescued after a tipster called 3-1-1 on Feb. 11, 2019, to report the big cat she discovered while going to a southeast Houston home to smoke marijuana, according to Houston police.
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Police said the tiger was found abandoned in the garage of the home in an unlocked cage.
“Loki was found in a tiny transport cage where he had obviously lived for quite a while because he was sitting on top of rotting hay filled with maggots, and rotting food filled with feces,” Almrud said.
Brittany Garza, the tiger’s previous owner, told KPRC2 the animal she raised as a cub had gotten too big for her to provide care. Garza said she was planning to have it taken to a wildlife sanctuary, but police located the big cat first.
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Garza was charged with cruelty to non-livestock animals for failing to provide adequate food, water and veterinary services.
Loki now has a three-acre habitat all to himself to roam, sit under the trees, take a swim in the pool, or a much-needed nap. Staff at the ranch describe Loki’s personality as very low-key. He sat by the fence during the interview and let out a series of big yawns.
“He’s living his best life, and as you can tell he’s thoroughly impressed with our interview,” Almrud said before chuckling as Loki yawned once more.
Elsa’s spacious habitat is located near Loki’s. The female tiger was brought to the Black Beauty Ranch during the 2019 February Texas freeze. The cold never bothered her anyway, thanks to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office locating her roaming around a woman’s backyard in San Antonio on Feb.6, 2021. Elsa, who was only 75 pounds at the time, was brought to the wildlife sanctuary where she was named after a character in Disney’s Frozen.
“She was found in substandard conditions again as a pet wearing a harness,” Almrud said.
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The young female tiger is best described as spunky, rambunctious, and very curious.
“Elsa is just a little over a year. She’s still a playful tiger and still got some growing up to do,” the ranch’s senior director said. “So, we love watching her frolic, and jump, and bounce, and splash in her water.”
Elsa celebrated her first birthday last October with pumpkins and a pinata. She now weighs 210-pounds.
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Lastly, Almrud took KPRC2 on a drive to see the infamous India. How could anyone forget the viral video of the Bengal tiger roaming an Energy Corridor neighborhood on May 9, 2021? The video showed an off-duty sheriff’s deputy pointing a gun toward India as the tiger entered the street, forcing the man to retreat backward. Then, a man, later identified as Victor Cuevas, grabbed the tiger by the collar before both loaded up in a pickup truck and drove away to an unknown location.
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Cuevas, who was out of jail on bond related to a 2017 murder, through his attorney, denied owning India, although both admitted Cuevas loves exotic animals and he often watched India. India was found unharmed on May 15 days later so she could be taken to the wildlife sanctuary.
Almrud said in the 9 months India has been at the sanctuary, he’s starting to revert to his wild instincts now that he’s no longer in human hands.
“His personality has changed tremendously from being habituated to humans to being a wild cat,” she said. “He explores. He frolics. He plays, but he’s transitioning extremely well.”
Almrud said she’s grateful the sanctuary could make room for India, Loki and Elsa, but they’ve had to turn away others. She’s hopeful Congress will pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R.263) during the 2021-2022 legislative session. The legislation was introduced on Jan.11, 2021, and aims to ban private ownership of wild, dangerous animals.
“We can’t handle the influx of all of these animals coming out of the exotic pet trade, and that’s why it’s so important to pass this legislation to stop the practice because what happens to the unlucky ones? Unfortunately, we don’t know,” Almrud added.
H.R.263 has not yet passed in the House of Chambers. It was last referred to the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife.
Almrud said there are plans to expand the Black Beauty Ranch in the near future. She said the goal is to move the non-human primates to larger habitats that were previously used by small exotic cats. They’ll then refurbish the non-human primates’ cages for other animals coming out of the pet trade.
If you would like to help the Black Beauty Ranch you can donate here.