Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Tiger Rescued From Smugglers Finds Permanent Sanctuary in San Diego County, CA

July 27, 2018


Jane Hendron, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,, 760-207-4997

A hybrid Bengal tiger cub rescued by officers with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, San Diego County, California, on August 23, 2017, now has a permanent home at Lions, Tigers, & Bears Sanctuary in Alpine, California.

Only six weeks old when seized from a smuggler, the tiger, now named Moka, was immediately handed over to law enforcement special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which placed him into the care of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

“We are committed to protecting imperiled species both at home and abroad,” said Edward Grace, Acting Assistant Director of the Office of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The successful confiscation and subsequent care of this animal is thanks to a variety of partners who dedicate their lives to wildlife conservation. Together, we will continue to combat the illegal wildlife trade and will bring those who choose to break the law to justice.”

“Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents, in partnership with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies continue to work tirelessly to investigate and ultimately dismantle transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) that attempt to smuggle endangered species, and other types of contraband,” said David Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of HSI in San Diego. “While these TCOs are only concerned about their lavish lifestyles, they do not have any concern about the safety of these animals and maintaining them in their natural habitat. We are glad that Moka has been afforded an opportunity to grow and flourish in a safe environment. HSI is committed to holding individuals involved in these types of crimes accountable for their actions.”

“CBP officers are often faced with unusual situations,” said Pete Flores, director of field operations for CBP in San Diego. “The CBP officers at the Otay Mesa port of entry met the challenge head on and assisted in preserving the life of this endangered species.”

“These weren’t naïve teenagers who wanted a pet tiger,” said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman. “These defendants were part of an established cross-border wildlife smuggling business. We have laws in place to protect endangered species. Smuggling a tiger in the front seat of a car puts both the tiger and the public in jeopardy. I’m glad these defendants have been held accountable, and Moka has a happy ending in a safe environment.”

Working together, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Department of Justice successfully prosecuted the smugglers, Luis Eudoro Valencia, who was sentenced on February 20, 2018, and Eriberto Paniagua who was sentenced on March 12, 2018. Valencia was sentenced to six months in prison, three years of supervised release, and fined $1,000. Paniagua was sentenced to six months in prison and three years of supervised release.

Following emergency surgery to repair intestinal adhesions, Moka recovered well and flourished under the care of San Diego Zoo Safari Park veterinarians and animal husbandry specialists.

Finding a permanent facility capable of properly housing Moka and addressing his health and well-being was challenging. Fortunately, Lions, Tigers, & Bears Sanctuary is an excellent facility, and has room to accept Moka as a new resident.  

Bobbi Brink, Founder and Director of Lions Tigers & Bears said,  “Sanctuaries like ours are the last best hope for the thousands of captive-bred tigers like Moka.  They can’t be released into the wild, and zoos won’t take them because they have no ‘conservation value.’“That’s why they come here, and that’s why our primary mission is to provide these victims of an illicit and inhumane industry a second chance and a forever home.”

Moka was transferred from the Safari Park to the sanctuary in Alpine on June 3, 2018. Moka is just one example of the impacts of illegal wildlife trafficking on animals, which pushes many rare and endangered species closer to extinction.

Global Tiger Day is celebrated annually on July 29th. Initiated in 2010 at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit, the goal of Tiger Day is to raise public awareness and support for tiger conservation.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the U.S. Postal Service to introduce the Save Vanishing Species Stamp. Proceeds from the sale of this first class stamp benefit tigers, elephants, rhinos and other imperiled species and is a way for all of us to help conserve wildlife.  By buying this stamp, Americans have helped raise more than $4.7 million for international wildlife conservation that have supported 99 projects in 35 countries. For more information and to purchase stamps, please visit

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit

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