MEXICO — On Wednesday, authorities began transporting 177 lions, tigers, jaguars and other exotic big cats that were found at an animal rescue center in the mountains on the south side of Mexico City.
The federal attorney general’s office for environmental protection said a total of 202 animals, including monkeys, dogs, donkeys and coyotes, were being taken to other locations.
Dozens of heavily armed city police raided the “Black Jaguar White Tiger” animal sanctuary on Tuesday after images of skinny, distressed and injured lions circulated on social media.
The reserve’s founder told local media that he rescued some of the animals and that some of them arrived in poor condition.
Mexico City Police Chief Omar Garcia Harfuch said the property was seized “for the crime of misuse of property and mistreatment of animals.”
City police said in a statement that “according to the inspection, the property where the animals were kept is zoned for agricultural or grazing purposes, and not to keep the type of species found.”
Under Mexican law, individuals can register to keep exotic cats and other animals in supervised wildlife management units. The establishment searched on Tuesday seems to have filed such documents.
But animal rights group PETA called the site a “fake sanctuary”, saying it had complained for years that the facility engaged in abusive practices.
Peta said the lions, tigers and jaguars were kept in relatively small fenced enclosures, sometimes with more than one animal per enclosure, and were also forced to interact with humans for “selfies” or videos.
The Association of Zoos, Breeders and Aquariums of Mexico said its members would volunteer to take care of the animals.
But Mexico’s drug cartel members illegally possessing big cats and the country’s 2015 ban on animal acts in circuses have both contributed to the saturation of animal shelters and rescue facilities.
“Several of our facilities are already saturated with wild animals from various rescues, ranging from circuses to hundreds of seizures of illegal animal trafficking,” Ernesto Zazueta, head of the zoo association, said in a statement. “But we cannot allow these animals, many of which are endangered, to continue in these deplorable health and malnutrition conditions.”
Zazueta said some of the monkeys and three lions could be taken to zoos in Mexico City as early as Wednesday and plans were to send 50 of the animals Thursday to zoos west of the capital and in northern states of Gunajuato and Sinaloa.
The animals were in “a horrible situation”, he said. “Some of their tails are missing, they had been eaten. Others lack an eye, an ear. They are very, very thin, dehydrated.
The shelter’s founder said donations to the reserve have plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mexican narcos have long been fascinated by exotic animals.
In a week in June, a spider monkey dressed as the mascot of a drug gang was found shot dead after a shooting, a 450-pound (200-kilogram) tiger roamed the streets of coastal Nayarit state peaceful, and a man died of being maimed when he attempted to pet a captive tiger in a cartel-dominated area in western Michoacan state.