In May, U.S. border patrol agents spotted three people trying to cross into Texas illegally while carrying a black duffel bag. Noticing the officers, the migrants turned back, ditching the bag as they ran away.
Officers unzipped the bag and stuffed inside was tiny Kenobi, who was only about 3 months old at the time. They couldn’t believe their eyes — but they had just saved a little life.
Kenobi had been highly sedated in order to be smuggled across the border, and it’s likely he was on his way to become someone’s pet or to go on display at a roadside zoo. But instead, he will now only know a life of peace. He was brought to In-Sync Exotics, an accredited wildlife sanctuary and rescue in Wylie, Texas, where he’s just made his very first friend: A playful white tiger cub named Kylo Ren.
Seeing the two together is just as adorable as expected.
“The introduction process involved letting them see and smell each other for a while while keeping them separate for their own safety,” Angela Culver, media director for In-Sync Exotics, told The Dodo. “Then we started supervised playdates, which got longer the better they got along. Kylo Ren wasn’t sure about Kenobi for a bit, much like any only child when they get a new sibling.”
Kylo, who is just two months younger than Kenobi, was born at the sanctuary last summer after his pregnant mom and his dad were rescued from life as backyard pets. A budding friendship was just waiting to happen, and now the two youngsters couldn’t be happier together.
Instead of being locked in small cages like they may have been in captivity, Kylo and Kenobi run free in their large grassy enclosure each day, playing and romping around like the young tigers they are. They go swimming, toss toys and get to nap in the sun as much as they want each day.
“The boys live together full-time now,” Culver said. “They love running around on their playground, playing chase, tag, wrestling, and splashing around in the puddles from all the recent rain.”
This is a far cry from what their lives would have looked like if they hadn’t been rescued. Across the U.S., thousands of tigers live trapped in cages as pets — simply because it’s so easy for people to buy and sell them under the radar. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are actually more tigers living in American backyards than there are left in the wild.
While many roadside zoos with tiger breeding programs claim their efforts are conserving an endangered species, the reality is that these tigers, like Kylo Ren, will never see their native habitats — thus never contributing to the wild tiger population.
Luckily, this little cub’s future got brighter when he dodged the hands of smugglers and ended up in a sanctuary instead.
Kenobi surely hasn’t had an easy start — but Culver is confident he’ll have a friend for life in Kylo. Things are usually a whole lot sweeter with a good pal at your side, after all.
“It’s truly beautiful to witness these two playing together,” Culver said. “We’re so grateful to be able to give them a safe, healthy, happy, forever home, especially knowing the bleak lives they would’ve had otherwise.”
There are fewer than 4,000 tigers left in the wild, and many are being forced into cruel captive industries like these cats almost were. Project C.A.T. is working to protect tigers for years to come by supporting nearly 2 million acres of protected habitat — part of a global effort to double the number of wild tigers by 2022. Find out how you can help here.