US seizes 68 big cats from ‘Tiger King’ park

Tiger staring at camera (iStock)

US Marshals seized 68 protected big cats from The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, an Oklahoma zoo featured in Netflix’s “Tiger King”, the Justice Department said Thursday. Among the animals taken were lions, a jaguar, and several lion-tiger hybrids known as “ligers.”

“This seizure should send a clear message that the Justice Department takes alleged harm to captive-bred animals protected under the Endangered Species Act very seriously,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The animals were seized following a court-ordered warrant for what the DOJ says is “ongoing” violations of the Endangered Species Act in a complaint against Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe. The Lowes are associates of the mullet-wearing zookeeper Joseph Maldonado-Passage, dubbed “Joe Exotic”, who’s currently serving a 22-year prison term at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth.

Exotic’s steep sentence stems from his 2019 conviction for 17 federal counts of animal abuse, including eight violations of the Lacey Act and nine of the Endangered Species Act, and two counts of attempted murder for hire for plotting to kill Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue. Last year, Exotic was hopeful for a pardon from former President Trump following a suggestion from Don Jr, even going as far as having a limo parked outside the prison awaiting his release, but it never came.

“I only mattered to Don Jr when he needed to make a comment about me to boost his social media post,” Exotic said. “Boy were we all stupid to believe he actually stood for Equal Justice? His corrupt friends all come first.” Exotic added that he was “too innocent and too gay” to receive a pardon from Trump.

The Netflix documentary, fully titled Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, focuses on Exotic’s rivalry with Carole Baskin, exploring a sprawling, interconnected community of big cat conservationists and collectors, as well as private zoos and animal sanctuaries they set up for their animals.

Baskin characterizes herself as an animal rights activist who seeks to provide sanctuaries for big cats raised in combat and harsh upbringing, however, Exotic says she’s a rival zookeeper and arch-nemesis who wants to eliminate her competition. The duo exchanged videos, legal allegations, and harassment campaigns involving the US Fish and Wildlife Service as well as PETA.

Exotic has also pushed an unproven theory that Baskin murdered her husband, Don Lewis, who disappeared in August of 1997 after leaving his home in Tampa. In 2002, he was declared legally dead.

The Department of Agriculture has performed three inspections on the grounds of Tiger King Park since December of 2020. Across the numerous inspections, the Lowes were cited for failure to provide adequate or timely vet care for their animals, appropriate nutrition, or weather-proof and roomy shelter.

Earlier this month, the Lowes were found in contempt after months of noncompliance with court orders requiring the couple to hire a qualified veterinarian to head up a care program that meets Animal Welfare Act guidelines. Federal prosecutors say their noncompliance is also a violation of the ESA.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces the Endangered Species Act,” said Assistant Director Edward Grace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Office of Law Enforcement. “The law protects imperiled species, such as tigers, both in the wild and in captivity. We work jointly with our federal law enforcement partners to conserve and protect natural resources and we are pleased that we could provide our expertise to assist the U.S. Marshals and USDA officers. Together, we will ensure these animals receive proper care and rehabilitation.”

Numerous federal authorities are serving as investigatory agencies in the case, including the U.S. Marshals, the USDA, and the Department of the Interior’s FWS.

The case is being handled by six DOJ attorneys from several divisions including the Environment and National Resources Division as well as the Civil Rights Division. Court records show both Lowes, the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, and Tiger King LLC are represented by Daniel J. Card, who said in a hearing last week that the Lowes “want out completely.”

“They don’t want to fight this anymore. They don’t want to do it,” Card told District Judge John F. Heil, III.

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