Residents of the Southern California city of Hemet are used to the rural quiet life in an arid landscape, so when a 3-month-old tiger cub was found roaming the streets, some could hardly believe it.
The declawed baby Siberian-Bengal tiger, which measured about 2 feet long, was first spotted roaming through the town of just over 80,000 people Thursday and was transported to the Ramona Humane Society in San Jacinto.
Shortly after the initial rescue, Joel Almquist, the executive director of the Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Phelan, California, received a call from a warden at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that a baby tiger needed to be picked up in Ramona.
"At first I thought it was a joke," Almquist told BuzzFeed News. "I laughed, but he said it was serious, so I drove down there."
Almquist has worked with tigers for more than 20 years, and said that he typically rescues the animals from people who purchased them legally in other states, brought them to California, and then lost their homes and had to turn the tigers over to ensure their well being.
But this was Almquist's first time working with a tiger cub.
He told BuzzFeed News that the wildcat will be named by a Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary volunteer.
The young tiger is currently under quarantine, and apart from having been declawed and suffering from a minor hernia, is in good health.
Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Friday told BuzzFeed News that officials had opened a "fact-finding" investigation to determine where the cub came from.
While the owner could face a misdemeanor charge of illegally possessing an exotic animal, the primary thrust of the investigation was to ensure there were no other animals that could pose a threat, he added.
Hughan said exotic animals like big cats — which are primarily smuggled into California from Texas, where they are legal to possess — typically get abandoned when they get too hard to care for, sick, or become unwelcome pets.