An endangered Bengal tiger cub smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border last summer that went on to live at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park underwent emergency surgery this week.
Moka – the cub, who won the hearts of San Diegans with his unique tale – recently began showing increased signs of ill health, including intestinal adhesions that raised serious concerns for animal care experts, the Safari Park confirmed.
Imaging studies showed Moka was suffering from malformations and hernia, which the Safari Park said were consistent with previous trauma or infection, possibly related to his care, or lack thereof, before he was rescued by authorities.
The Safari Park called in a specialist, and the emergency procedure was performed on the cub. Moka is now recovering under continued care and observation at the park’s Paul Harter Veterinary Clinic.
On Aug. 23, 2017 – when Moka was only about six weeks old – he was discovered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. The cub was stashed in the back of a car driven by Perris, California, resident Luis Eudoro Valencia, 18.
Valencia was entering the U.S. from Mexico. When officers asked him about the animal in his car, the claimed it was just a cat.
He told investigators he had arranged to pay $300 for the cub from a man in Tijuana, Mexico. According to a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court, Valencia had paperwork from the transaction: a sales receipt from a Mexico resident that falsely stated that Bengal tigers are not a protected species.
Valencia’s attorney said the teenager had wanted to keep the cub as a pet but prosecutors said Valencia’s cell phone data showed he was running an animal smuggling business and had boasted about making thousands of dollars by selling wildlife.
Last month, Valencia was sentenced to six months in prison and three years of supervised release for the smuggling of the Bengal tiger cub.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took custody of the cub after the smuggling bust. Moka was then taken to the Safari Park, where he has been living ever since.
At the Safari Park, Moka formed a bond with a fellow cub – Rakan, a Sumatran tiger who’s one month older. Over the past few months, the pair had grown inseparable and had been sharing their living space but, when Moka fell ill, he was removed from the exhibit.