There are many infamous drug lord who created their own menagerie. One of them was Mexican Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was given a life sentence in the US in 2019 for his leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel.
When he wasn’t running his multi-billion trafficking racket and brutally murdering his rivals, he liked to travel around his zoo on a little train, seeing lions and panthers. It’s said El Chapo also owned a rare white tiger.
In fact, the 63-year-old, famed for a string of daring escapes from jail, was once nearly caught by the authorities through his weakness for furry animals.
After one breakout, he bizarrely applied for an official permit to reunite his daughter with her pet monkey called Boots. Tracked by the authorities, he only narrowly managed to escape his hideout before they arrived.
When another Sinaloa chief, Jesus “The King” Zambada, now 45, was finally caught, a whopping 200 animals were confiscated from his ranch, including monkeys, lions, peacocks and ostriches.
Amado Carrillo Fuentes, leader of the Juárez Cartel, also owned a tiger, but for some criminal masterminds, the fearsome fauna is not kept purely for pleasure.
Heriberto Lazcano, leader of Mexico’s brutal Los Zetas Cartel, was nicknamed “The Executioner”, partly based on reports that he had his enemies fed to his pet big cats in their pits. He died in a shoot-out in 2012.
Other crime bosses have used exotic animals, such as snakes and tropical fish, to smuggle drugs, filling them with condoms full of cocaine.
In one operation alone, more than 5,000 animals were seized from gangs in Mexico, leaving local zoos overwhelmed.
One zoo boss, Manlio Nucamendi, explained that for the criminals the animals were “a symbol of status and power”.
And the trend for taking the law of the jungle to extremes extends further afield. A Romanian gangster was recently found keeping bears on his estate, while elements of the Italian Mafia are known to own dangerous crocodiles to encourage people to pay up… or be fed to them.
In the 1983 movie Scarface, Al Pacino’s gangster character Tony Montana owns a pet tiger.
The storyline echoed real-life New York mobster “Crazy Joe” Gallo who is said to have kept a lion named Cleo in a basement, which he used to threaten debtors in the 1950s.
Gallo family associate Frank DiMatteo recalled chillingly: “The lion would rattle the chain and roar a little bit… and that was enough.”