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Rescued Bengal Tiger Cub Recovering After Emergency Surgery

Updated on March 31, 2018
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Animal lover, veteran journalist, and award-winning reporter with experience working for The Associated Press and other major news outlets.

A Bengal tiger cub named Moka is recovering at San Diego Zoo Safari Park after undergoing emergency surgery.
A Bengal tiger cub named Moka is recovering at San Diego Zoo Safari Park after undergoing emergency surgery. | Source

Tiger Cub Recovering After Emergency Surgery

A Bengal tiger cub that a teenage smuggler tried to sneak into the U.S. is recovering at San Diego Zoo Safari Park after undergoing emergency surgery.

Zoo officials say the tiger cub known as “Moka” is doing well after an operation on March 6 to clear an intestinal blockage that had made him acutely ill. After the surgery, Moka had been under the care of veterinarians and animal keepers and confined for more than three weeks to what’s known as the bedroom area at Tiger Trail in the park until he recovered.

Park Visitors Delighted By Tiger Cub's Return

But on March 29 Moka was allowed back into the park’s tiger exhibit, delighting visitors who can again watch him play and wrestle with his Sumatran tiger buddy named "Rakan."

“Moka’s sutures are looking great, he’s healing well and his prognosis for a full recovery is really good,” Katie Christofferson, keeper at the park, said in a statement. “Moka will continue to get a veterinary check once a week for the next couple of weeks, but he’s now he’s able to run, jump and pounce, while honing his tiger skills.”


Moka and Rakan Playing at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Tiger Cub Was Found in Car at Border Checkpoint

Moka was taken to the park after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found him lying on the front floor of a car driven by an 18-year-old California man who was crossing into the U.S. from Mexico at a border checkpoint south of San Diego last August. At the time, the cub was only believed to be about 5 to 6 weeks old, and weighed only 10 pounds. Zoo officials believe Moka's intestinal problems and a hernia he was suffering from are likely the results of improper care before he was rescued at the border patrol station.

“CBP officers are often faced with unusual situations,” said Pete Flores, director of field operations for CBP in San Diego said at the time. “The CBP officers at the Otay Mesa port of entry met the challenge head on and assisted in preserving the life of this endangered species.”


When the Bengal tiger cub now known as Moka was found in a car at a border checkpoint he was only a few weeks old.
When the Bengal tiger cub now known as Moka was found in a car at a border checkpoint he was only a few weeks old. | Source

Teenage Smuggler Sentenced to Prison

Federal prosecutors say the driver of the car, later identified as Luis Valencia, has since been sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to trying to smuggle the tiger into the U.S.

Prosecutors and wildlife officials note that Bengal tigers are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, making it a federal crime to bring one into the U.S. without permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Found primarily in India, with smaller populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar, it’s estimated there are somewhere between 2,500 to 4,000 Bengal tigers remaining in the wild.


Lions, Cheetahs and Other Exotic Animals on Display at the Park

The San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, where Moka can be seen, is an 1,800 acre zoo near Escondido, about 30 miles north of San Diego. The park, operated by San Diego Zoo Global, is also home to lions, African rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes and other exotic animals. For more information visit the park’s website by clicking here. San Diego Zoo Global also operates the larger San Diego Zoo, which is home to about 3,700 animals.

A markerSan Diego Zoo’s Safari Park -
San Diego Zoo Safari Park, 15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido, CA 92027, USA
get directions

The San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park is about 30 miles north of San Diego.

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