MEXICO CITY — “Raise the window higher,” said a man's voice over a shaky video filmed from a moving car as a Bengal tiger saunters into the frame. “No way, it's enormous,” a woman replied in shock.
But rather than being filmed on safari in India, the video was shot Sunday in an area of rural Mexico as the escaped predator strolled casually along a country road. Cars lined up on the side of the pavement to gawk at the tiger, and videos and photos soon went viral across the country.
The incident took place in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, on a road that leads to the popular weekend destination town of Tapalpa. It was an especially busy Sunday during a long weekend to celebrate the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution.
The tiger was captured later that day by authorities from the Jalisco environment ministry, local media reported, but little information was given about how the animal, not native to the Americas, ended up roaming the forest road. One local reporter quoted Mexican authorities at the scene who said that it wasn't the first time the tiger escaped from its owners. They also noted that the noticeably overweight tiger appeared to be in poor physical condition.
Exotic animals have become sought after pets for wealthy citizens in Mexico and a robust illegal wildlife trafficking industry exists in the country. There have been numerous seizures of non-native animals like tigers and lions by Mexican authorities connected to arrests of people involved in the drug trade.
While shocking, Sunday's escape wasn't unique. In May 2020, a Bengal tiger escaped from a private owner on the outskirts of Guadalajara, the state capital of Jalisco. Four months later, a woman was photographed walking a baby tiger on a leash in a shopping mall in Mexico City.
One of the first accounts to publish photos of the incident came from a Facebook page called Turismo Rural de Jalisco—Jalisco's Rural Tourism—which promotes outdoor activities in the forests and sierra a few hours from Guadalajara.
The page's owner wrote on Facebook that he'd been riding his motorcycle to Tapalpa when he spotted the tiger after noticing numerous cars parked along the highway.
“It was staring at me,” he wrote. “It could have been for two reasons: the sound of my motorcycle or the color of my fluorescent jacket.”
After parking further away, he climbed a hill for a better view and began taking photos. But soon after the tiger started approaching.
“It got too close and I jumped from where I was to get back onto my motorcycle,” continued the page’s owner, believing that the tiger saw him as “prey.”
“I don't know if I was lucky or reckless,” he wrote. “But believe me, I can say that this experience buckled my legs with fear after looking at an animal of this size in the eyes without any protection.”