MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexican narcos’ fascination with exotic animals was on display this week after a spider monkey dressed as a drug gang mascot was killed in a gunfight, a 450-pound (200 kilogram) tiger roamed the streets in the Pacific coastal state of Nayarit, and a man died after trying to pet a captive tiger in a cartels-dominated area of western Michoacan state.
Like scenes from a narco television series, exotic animals have long been part of the Mexican criminal underworld.
Photos from the scene of a shooting Tuesday with police that killed 11 members of the drug gang showed a small monkey — dressed in a small camouflage jacket and small “bulletproof” vest — sprawled over the body of a dead gunman who apparently owns his.
Inexplicably, the well-equipped dead gunman had a plastic bucket on his head.
Authorities in the state of Mexico confirmed the authenticity of the photos and said it was unclear whether the monkey — who was also wearing a diaper — died in the hail of bullets that killed its owner.
“A primate was killed at the scene, believed to have belonged to a criminal who was also killed at the scene,” prosecutors said in a statement, adding: “The animal will be autopsied by a veterinarian who specializes in is one of a kind.” and pet trafficking charges would be considered against the suspects who survived the shooting.
As usual, the monkey soon got its own “corrida,” the traditional Mexican folk ballad often composed in honor of drug capos.
“Life is very short, it wasn’t the monkey’s turn (to die),” the ballad wrote on social media.
On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Attorney General said it had seized a tiger in Tecuala, in the Pacific coastal state of Nayarit, near the border with Sinaloa, home of the cartel of the same name.
The agency said it acted “after receiving reports of a Bengal tiger roaming the streets of Tecuala” and found that the animal was being kept illegally there.
Those reports were based on a video posted to social media earlier this week that showed a young woman screaming when she encountered the tiger on the street in a residential area. “Be quiet, it might be close,” a woman can be heard saying on the video.
Authorities said the tiger’s claws and fangs had been removed, and later in the video, a man can be seen casually throwing a rope over the tiger’s neck and leading him away.
Perhaps the most tragic story came from the western state of Michoacan, which has long been dominated by the Carteles Unidos gang and the Jalisco cartel.
On Sunday, authorities confirmed that a man had been seriously injured by a tiger in Periban, Michoacan, a town in the state’s avocado-growing region, where gangs have long been demanding protection payments from the lucrative avocado trade.
A video posted on social media, the authenticity of which could not be confirmed, shows the man calling the tiger to the side of a fenced enclosure. “Come on, come on,” you hear the man beg.
The man stands outside the fence, apparently feeding the tiger with one hand, putting his other arm through the wire mesh fencing to pet the animal’s neck.
The man then screams in pain after the tiger turns quickly and bites the outstretched arm, refusing to let go. Finally, the tiger tore both of the man’s arms.
Michoa state law enforcement has confirmed that the man was taken to a hospital, where he died from his injuries a few days later.
Mexican law allows individuals to keep exotic animals if they register them under strictly controlled conditions. But security analyst David Saucedo said criminals sometimes go so far as to get such permits.
Saucedo said drug traffickers often keep exotic animals as a symbol of status and power, echoing the Colombian drug lords of the 1980s and 1990s.
“Mexican drug traffickers copied the practice of buying exotic animals and setting up private zoos from the Medellin cartel narcos,” Saucedo said. “By the aristocracy’s code of drug trafficking, having a private zoo was a requirement to be part of the circle of major drug traffickers.”
In some cases, the animals had more sinister uses.
“Some drug cartels, like Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano, bought exotic animals to torture their victims or make them disappear,” Saucedo said. “Several of his enemies were devoured by the tigers or the crocodiles that the Zetas kept in their pens or cages.”
Lazcano himself was killed in a shootout with Mexican military personnel in 2012.