SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) – The illegal wildlife trafficking business is estimated to bring in between eight and ten billion dollars per year.
This past summer, Border Patrol agents seized a tiger cub at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry after two men tried to smuggle it into the United States from Mexico.
The cub seized was a 3-month-old Bengal tiger. An 18-year-old Riverside County resident was arrested.
The United States is one of the leaders when it comes to wildlife demand – second only to China.
“Hundreds of millions of animals are transported in that trade, so of course it makes us sad to see one coming into the United States as part of that pet trade,” said Autumn Nelson with the San Diego Safari Park.
Cute and cuddly just does not cut it for big cats. When cubs grow up with people instead of other tigers, socializing can be challenging, lack of adaptation – even deadly.
So, a 4-month-old Sumatran tiger was brought in from the Smithsonian National Zoo in September after his mother began acting aggressively toward him. Great cat experts say it's best to raise cubs in pairs.
“We were able to get these two together that way they weren't growing up alone and they can learn those species-appropriate behaviors,” said Nelson.
Keepers use toys and platforms to teach important behaviors like stalking, hunting and wrestling.
“Their newest thing is to play with water so we've been giving them little baby pools and they enjoy splashing around, which is really cute,” said Nelson.
In the wake of the cubs’ new relationship, San Diego Zoo Global co-hosted the first ever illegal Wildlife Trade Symposium in the United Kingdom this past September- bringing experts and conservationists together from around the world.
"It was an important conference, it was the first one so that we can tackle this head on," said Nelson.
Spiders and reptiles also rake in huge amounts of money and the people illegally moving them are cruel.
A bird eating spider, the largest tarantula species in the world, is one of 20 that were seized from a mailing box in Maryland.
From arachnids and reptiles to big cats, all species are threatened by illegal wildlife trafficking.
Currently, as many as 10,000 homes in the United States could be housing tigers illegally, according to the Washington Post.
In foreign countries, big cats are a sign of wealth and too many rich people keep them as pets - a practice there's no room for, according to animal experts.
The Sumatran tiger sent to the Safari Park to help the seized Bengal grow has an interesting connection to the park.
His mother was born at the Safari Park before heading to the National Zoo – making it a family reunion for the cub.
The best thing the public can do to tackle illegal animal trade is to make sure to purchase pets legally from reputable vendors.
The cubs had been in the park's animal care center getting acquainted. Now they're living in the Tull Family Tiger Trail, where guests can view them daily from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.