North Texas animal sanctuaries filled with big cats that were seized or abandoned

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Exotic animal sanctuaries in North Texas are very familiar with cases like the tiger found in a vacant Houston home on Monday.

The tiger, that Houston authorities nicknamed "Tyson" after “The Hangover” movie, was moved to a sanctuary in Henderson County in East Texas Tuesday morning.

Authorities say a group of people looking for a place to smoke weed found Tyson in a vacant home in Houston. Police say it was caged and well fed. They're trying to find out who kept it there. It is illegal to keep a tiger in the Houston city limits.

Finding a full grown tiger in town makes news to the average person, but for the many people that volunteer and work at wildlife sanctuaries across the state. In fact, they say it is a very sad and expensive burden they are having to bear.

Jennifer Hatch is the lead keeper at the In-Sync Wildlife Rescue in Wylie. The tiger found in the vacant Houston home was taken to a sanctuary similar to hers.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates the number of tigers living in the wild to be a little more than 3,000. The vast majority of those are in India. It estimates 5,000 tigers are captive in the U.S. and roughly 2,000 of those are in Texas.

Most big cities in Texas ban the ownership of large dangerous animals. But in unincorporated areas, it is legal to buy, sell or breed wild animals, like tigers, with a required permit.  But experts say many sellers skirt the laws.

“People just think they’re so cute and cuddly as cubs,” Hatch said. “And then they get them, and they grow up, and then they realize they can’t afford to feed them and how dangerous it is to actually have them.”

The Wylie sanctuary is at capacity and is caring for roughly 80 cats. Thirty-eight of them are tigers. Virtually all the animals there have stories similar stories to the tiger in Houston.

Hatch recalled the day she met Gus, a big, bold Siberian Tiger. A man pulled up in a pickup truck and said that he had a cat in the bed of his truck.

“Either people can’t afford them, don’t know how to take care of them or don’t have space for them,” Hatch said.

Since the large, majestic animals are not good enough for zoos and could never make it in the wild, they have to be cared for by non-profit organizations.

“I love my job at the sanctuary,” Hatch said. “But I’d really like it if there wasn’t a need for them so that these animals could be free in the wild and people wouldn’t try to take them as pets.”

The Wylie sanctuary owner says in the next couple of days she has to go back down to the Houston area and pick up three more tigers that someone couldn’t care for.