8:28 AM PT -- Houston PD tells TMZ ... cops got a call about the tiger around 8 PM Sunday, but when they showed up ... the animal was long gone. The police were told their suspect -- the presumed owner of the tiger -- had stuffed the tiger into a white Jeep Cherokee and fled.
We're told the police actually spotted the vehicle not too long after that, and a pursuit ensued ... but they ended up losing sight of it. They nabbed the plates, though, and are currently trying to track the guy down ... whom cops describe as a Hispanic male in his late 20s.
HPD says they believe the man was illegally keeping the tiger in the area.
Whoever let their tiger out and about on the streets of a Houston neighborhood this weekend is certainly no Joe Exotic, but they were trying to be ... and almost got the thing killed.
Check out this wild scene that unfolded Sunday in the burb of Memorial, where a neighbor -- who is allegedly an off-duty sheriff's deputy -- came face-to-face with the striped beast. The guy had his gun drawn as he tried yelling at it to stop, but it continued creeping toward him.
The supposed owner tells the cop not to shoot it and that he'll get the animal, which he successfully did in the end without any bullets flying. You can even see the tiger has a collar on, and seems pretty comfortable when the human wrangles it in on their front yard.
At this point, there's really not a whole lot of context other than this tiger appears to have been somebody's pet in one of the surrounding houses ... and it escaped somehow.
Of course, 911 was called over this ... but word is once they arrived, the tiger had already been stashed into a vehicle and driven away. It's unclear if anybody was charged yet -- but the police are certainly aware of it.
It's illegal to own exotic pets like this in the City of Houston, but you can, apparently, have a tiger in the surrounding unincorporated Harris County, assuming you have all the right paperwork and a boatload of insurance.
Considering this one was nowhere to be found when cops showed up, something tells us it wasn't meant to be there in the first place.