An adorable Bengal-Siberian tiger cub discovered roaming on Southern California streets now has a new name. The cub greeted visitors at its new home in San Diego County for the first time Saturday.
The tiger, named Himmel after San Diego personality Larry Himmel who died last year, is safely living at the Alpine nonprofit Lions, Tigers & Bears (LBT), which rescues exotic animals and brings them to live on a 94-acre property.
During an open house Saturday, the four-and-a-half month old cub comfortably explored his new environment to the excitment of visitors.
But why the cub with a cute face came to the facility is anything but charming. He was found abandoned on Sept. 3 in Hemet, northeast of Temecula. A woman turned him into the humane society in San Jacinto County, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials decided to send him to Alpine.
"He has a hard time supporting his hips,” said Bobbi Brink, the founder and director of LBT. “He's really weak in the back. His tail is really limp. He gets tired easily."
The 25-pound cub had been declawed, a procedure that could cause him complications like joint stiffness, chronic pain and arthritis later in life, the rescue said. He will also need surgery to remove a hernia from his abdomen.
His caretakers have been regularily feeding him bottles, a meat-rich diet and a lot of room to run. He has been brought back to health and could grow to be 500 pounds and live 20 years.
Brink told NBC 7 that the tiger is just the latest to come her way. Another named Maverick showed up two years ago after being confiscated by the government from an illegal owner.
“These cubs are bred only for profit,” Brink said. “They’re yanked from their mother. They're used for the photo op.”
She explained that several states allow people to use tiger cubs for photos until the animal reaches 12 weeks old, though that’s not allowed in California.
According to Brinks, when cubs reach that age, they become disposable. For that reason, LBT asks people not to take pictures with baby lions or tigers.
"It just keeps happening over and over,” she said. ”And we can't take all the animals. It has to stop. This unnecessary breeding, it has to stop."
Taking in a tiger costs about $10,000 year for food and basic medical costs at LBT. Caretakers then have to tack on more expenses for its habitat and more serious medical needs, Brinks said.
The rescue now takes care of 69 animals — 17 different species.