One of the biggest television events of last year was the Netflix documentary series Tiger King. Viewers were captivated by the true-crime drama of the feud between big cat zoo owner “Joe Exotic” and his rival Carole Baskin that escalated into a murder-for-hire plot.
But the show also shed light on the poor conditions these big cats are kept in. The tigers in Joe Exotic’s care were fed expired grocery store meat, and bred tiger cubs were shown to be used for visitor photo-ops.
Joe Exotic is now in prison—in part for his murder-for-hire plot, but also for 17 federal charges of animal abuse—but the crazy saga of Tiger King has continued even after the documentary.
Jeff Lowe, another figure featured in Tiger King, took control over the big cat zoo’s operations following the arrest. Lowe has seized on the notoriety of the show by dubbing his new zoo “Tiger King Park,” and while it drew big crowds after reopening last year, it has been continuously embroiled in controversy.
In the latest twist, 68 big cats have reportedly been seized from Lowe and his wife, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act. The cats include lions, tigers lion-tiger hybrids and a jaguar.
A release from the United States Department of Justice says the Lowes received citations for “failing to provide the animals with adequate or timely veterinary care, appropriate nutrition, and shelter that protects them from inclement weather and is of sufficient size to allow them to engage in normal behavior” following three inspections by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“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.
“This important animal rescue operation of nearly 70 endangered and allegedly abused lions, tigers, and a jaguar shows how effective civil forfeiture can be when utilized in conjunction with statutes like the Endangered Species Act,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“We are proud to have partnered with the Environment and Natural Resources Division to protect these amazing animals, and will work to ensure that they go to responsible animal preserves where they can be safely maintained rather than exploited.”
Despite the outrage following the release of Tiger King, Lowe has continued many of Joe Exotic’s most controversial practices, including his use of tiger cubs for petting and photo-ops.
He has been the subject of a number of mistreatment allegations. A PETA whistleblower said that lions in his care were suffering from severe flystrike, which led to petitions for the zoo to be shut down.
The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma — the one featured on Tiger King — was shut down last year after losing its license, although Lowe has taken a defiant stance in response.
“The Tiger King phenomenon has definitely changed our lives in many ways. It has brought us more attention than any human deserves, good and bad,” Lowe wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post.
“It has, and probably will continue to make us a target of every nutjob and animal rights loon in the World, but we are prepared.”
It isn’t clear what will happen to the 68 big cats seized by authorities. But previously, animals belonging to Joe Exotic were previously surrendered and ended up living in a big cat sanctuary.
“The animals are just happier. They are no longer just pacing,” Kent Drotar, public relations director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary, told People last year.
“It was almost an immediate change with their demeanor. They see other tigers. They see other animals. They see a horizon. They just have more of a purpose for living.”
No tiger or big cat should be kept in a zoos like these. We hope the seized cats will find a new home and be treated better.
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