A Bengal tiger wandered through a residential neighborhood in Houston on Mother’s Day, startling homeowners — at least one of whom drew his gun — and setting off a manhunt for a man who drove off with the animal, and who the authorities said was a suspect in a 2017 murder.
Eyewitness videos showed the tiger sprawled on the lawn of a home on Ivy Wall Drive in West Houston on Sunday.
The tiger, which is classified as an endangered species, then got up and roamed into the street as onlookers took videos of it from a distance, and one off-duty sheriff’s deputy who lives in the neighborhood drew a handgun.
A man emerged from the home, which the authorities said he has been leasing, to corral the tiger. He kissed it as he led it away, a video showed.
When the police arrived, the man was in a Jeep Cherokee with the tiger, according to the authorities, who said the driver got away after a brief pursuit. They were still searching for the man and the tiger on Monday afternoon.
The police said the man, identified by the district attorney’s office in Fort Bend County, Texas, as Victor Hugo Cuevas, 26, had previously been charged with murder there and had been released on bond.
“Obviously, if you see a Cherokee with a big tiger in it, it would be good to call us,” Ronald Borza, a commander with the Houston Police Department, said at a news conference on Monday afternoon.
Commander Borza said that a city ordinance bars Houston residents from owning tigers, and that a violation is a misdemeanor. The man who left with the tiger is expected to be charged with evading arrest, he said.
The authorities warned that situations like the one that happened on Sunday could have deadly consequences — both for people and for the exotic animals that are banned.
“You never know when that animal is going to turn on you,” Commander Borza said. “We had plenty of neighbors out here with guns.”
An arrest warrant revealed that Mr. Cuevas had been charged with murder in a July 2017 fatal shooting of a man in the parking lot of a sushi restaurant in Richmond, Texas.
Mr. Cuevas, of Richmond, was released on $125,000 bond last December pending trial, according to court records.
Michael W. Elliott, a lawyer for Mr. Cuevas, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday evening, but told The Houston Chronicle that his client did not own the tiger. He said that he could not elaborate on Mr. Cuevas’s connection to the animal.
“He was the one who captured the tiger, and that’s all we know right now,” Mr. Elliott told the newspaper, adding that he was arranging his client’s surrender with law enforcement.
Jose Ramos, who lives next door to the home where the tiger was spotted, said that he had called 911 after seeing the exotic animal, the television station KPRC reported.
“I mean, I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Ramos said.
The emergency dispatcher wasn’t exactly sure how to handle the situation, he said.
“‘Who do you want us to send? The police, the Fire Department, you know, the priest?’” Mr. Ramos said the dispatcher told him.
Officials said on Monday that there were indications that the Bengal tiger was not the only exotic animal kept at the home.
“We have reports that he does have monkeys,” Commander Borza said.
Commander Borza said that Houston residents are allowed to own monkeys as long as they weigh less than 30 pounds. He said that it had been several years since a resident was found to have a tiger.
There are fewer than 2,000 Bengal tigers left in the wild, according to the World Land Trust, which said that they are typically solitary animals and use the “stalk and ambush” method to track and attack prey.
It was not immediately clear how the man had obtained the tiger.
“This is a small circle of folks that deal in exotic animals,” Commander Borza said. “Most of them know each other, from my experience.”