- Weird that all these incidents happened around the same time.
Which four things do drug kingpins from Latin American cartels love the most? Drugs, of course, but also money, guns, and exotic animals.
You might be surprised by that last item but if you’ve paid any attention to narcos, you shouldn’t be. After all, the U.S. has recognized Pablo Escobar’s cocaine hippos as people.
But over the past week or so, strangely many of the drug cartels’ animals have popped up in the news cycle. Unfortunately, none of the stories are very cheerful.
Let’s start from the beginning. On June 14, Mexican police officers engaged in a shootout with a heavily armed drug gang in the south-central Mexican city of Texcaltitlan.
The cops apprehended seven gang members, while 11 other suspected criminals were shot dead. But in the aftermath of the violence, police officers discovered one more unexpected victim.
On the chest of a dead gunman laid the body of a small spider monkey. The monkey had been dressed in a miniature camouflage jacket and tiny “bullet-proof” vest.
Of course, the vest wasn’t actually made to stop bullets. And it didn’t.
“A primate was killed at the scene, which was presumably owned by a criminal who was also killed at the scene,” state prosecutors said according to CBS News.
The officials added that they would conduct a veterinary autopsy to accurately determine the monkey’s species. Based on the results, they may consider pressing animal trafficking charges on the arrested gang members.
The Strolling Tiger
It didn’t take long after the tragic death of the little monkey for the next suspected drug cartel pet to show up. Just the next day, on June 15, the people of the western Mexican town of Tecuala got a real scare.
A loose Bengal tiger was casually strolling along, sending people scrambling to get away from the predator. The events even got caught on video.
The video shows the tiger slowly walking down a street and lounging in front of a vehicle. A woman on the video tells an unknown person in Spanish to “be quiet, it might come closer.”
But the strangest part of the video is how it ends. The footage shows a man strolling up to the tiger without a care in the world, tossing a length of rope around its neck, and leading it away.
Mexico’s Attorney General of Environmental Protection later explained why the man probably didn’t seem too bothered by the animal. After seizing the animal which had been illegally kept, they found that the tiger had lost its fangs.
We mean that literally. Someone had removed both the fangs and claws of the tiger.
We were unable to find out who the authorities suspect of illegally owning the tiger. However, Tecuala is close to the state of Sinaloa which is home to a notorious drug cartel of the same name.
Perhaps there’s a connection.
The Hands that Feed
The last case comes from the Periban, a town in the southern Mexican state of Michoacán. And this is the most gruesome one.
Authorities confirmed that a man had died in the town after a tiger attack. These events, too, were reportedly caught on video. That one we won’t be sharing, though.
The video shows the unfortunate man calling on a tiger held in an enclosure. He’s sticking one arm through the enclosure’s fence to feed the tiger while petting it with the other one.
And then the tiger bites the hand that feeds it and refuses to let go. After mauling the man’s other arm, it then moves on to do the same to the other.
Authorities confirmed that the man had been taken to a hospital where he succumbed to his wounds a few days later.
Once again, it wasn’t immediately clear who owned the tiger. That said, the video is from Michoacan’s avocado region, where drug gangs are well known to extort protection money from farmers.
Adding to that, the area is controlled by the Jalisco Cartel, which the Department of Justice calls “one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world.” Putting one and one together, nobody should be surprised if the tiger was narco-owned.
Sleeping with Tigers
That’s a lot of potentially drug-related animals in one week. But what is it about exotic pets that fascinate narcos?
One possibility is the simple fact that it’s legal to own weird animals in Mexico, as long as they’re properly registered and kept under strict supervision. Drug cartel members actually occasionally get these permits, so their pets are legal.
According to security analyst David Saucedo, another factor could be that the cartels are trying to imitate Pablo Escobar, who owned the notorious hippos. Having a private zoo can serve as a status symbol in the criminal underworld.
Well, we suppose it’d be a status symbol anywhere. Keeping a bunch of wild, exotic animals can’t be cheap.
But for some particularly brutal drug bosses, their zoos served a practical purpose. For example, drug lord Heriberto Lazcano — who was shot in 2012 — used his animals to get rid of people who crossed him.
“Several of his enemies were devoured by the tigers or the crocodiles that the Zetas [cartel] kept in their pens or cages,” said Saucedo.