Mexican police investigating a tip-off in Jalisco state discovered not only a methamphetamine lab but also two Bengal tigers and several deer, which were likely destined for one of the “narco-zoos” popular with wealthy drug kingpins.

Police raided two sites after locals reported seeing armed men on a ranch near the border between Jalisco and Zacatecas, reported El Universal. At the first were the caged but apparently healthy animals and a strong smell of precursor chemicals. At the second were 15 vats and equipment for production of methamphetamine.

By the time the authorities arrived, the sites had been abandoned, and no arrests were made.

InSight Crime Analysis

Perhaps inspired by Pablo Escobar’s famous Hacienda Napoles ranch in Colombia, and its menagerie of exotic animals — now a popular theme park — rare and unusual creatures have become something of a status symbol for Mexican traffickers. The practice has become so widespread that the Mexican authorities have had problems rehousing all the animals seized from narco-zoos on traffickers’ properties.

International police body Interpol estimates the global trade in wildlife trafficking to be worth $10-20 billion a year, and says that Latin American criminal groups act as traffickers as well as purchasers. A recent investigation into the trade in Bolivia revealed the extent of the practice in the country, where captured exotic animals are both exported and sold domestically in markets as pets, food and for use in rituals. The most popular animals sold as pets are parrots and other talking birds, turtles and monkeys, according to FM Bolivia.

Colombia has also emerged as a hotspot in animal trafficking, and the trade there is reportedly worth an estimated $35 million a year. In 2012 Colombian police rescued over 46,000 illegaly trafficked animals.