Federal officials seize 68 big cats from Jeff Lowe’s ‘Tiger King Park’

National

THACKERVILLE, Okla. (KFOR) – U.S. law enforcement agents, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seized almost 70 animals from Jeff Lowe and his Thackerville, Oklahoma menagerie Monday.

The United States has seized 68 protected lions, tigers, lion-tiger hybrids and a jaguar from Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe’s Tiger King Park.

“There are no tigers left at Tiger King Park, and the Lowes’ reign of terror against threatened and endangered big cats may soon be over. If PETA has its way, these Tiger King villains will lose every other animal in their custody, too,” said PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement, Brittany Peet.

One of the tigers living at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park is pictured at the park in Wynnewood, Okla. in 2013. The operator of the zoo Jeff Lowe, who was featured on “Tiger King,” and his wife are willing to give up all their big cats to resolve a U.S. Justice Department civil complaint against them over animal care. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

“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.

Early this year, U.S. District Court Judge F. Heil III in the Eastern District of Oklahoma issued a preliminary judgment in favor of the United States and against Lowe, an exotic animal exhibitor, and dealer featured in the Netflix sensation “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.” 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has conducted three inspections of Tiger King Park since mid-December 2020.

During these inspections, officials say the Lowes received citations for failing to provide the animals with adequate or timely veterinary care, appropriate nutrition or shelter that protects them from inclement weather and is of sufficient size to allow them to engage in normal behavior.

The United States then initiated a series of legal actions against Lowe for his failure to comply with the Endangered Species Act and the Animal Welfare Act, and today’s action came about because of a warrant issued by that same court. 

“Jeff Lowe’s serial acts of animal mistreatment, sometimes with lethal results, have demonstrated that he’s not fit to be an animal caretaker,” said Wayne Pacelle, president at Animal Wellness Action. “These tigers have suffered enough.  They belong in a safe environment and far from Lowe.”

Judge Heil decided that Jeff Lowe must relinquish his tiger cubs (up to a year in age) to the United States for subsequent placement at reputable sanctuaries and “shall immediately cease exhibiting animals protected by the ESA and the AWA without a valid USDA exhibitor’s license.”

“Today’s warrant and seizure punctuates a long series of federal actions to shut down an unethical roadside zoo operator,” said Drew Edmondson, former Oklahoma Attorney General and co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council for Animal Wellness Action. “Joe Exotic and Jeff Lowe ran slipshod operations and the chickens have come home to roost.”

Earlier this year, Judge Heil was emphatic about Jeff Lowe’s illegal activities. 

“Based on the totality of the evidence presented regarding the alleged ESA violations at the Wynnewood Location and at Tiger King Park….the Court concludes that the United States can likely demonstrate that Defendants ‘harmed’ or ‘harassed’ numerous ESA protected animals,” wrote Judge Heil. 

The court goes on to conclude that “the United States has demonstrated that Defendants are placing the health of their animals in serious danger by providing substandard care in violation of the ESA and by failing to comply with applicable AWA provisions and regulations. Defendants’ habit, pattern, and practice of providing inadequate nutrition and timely veterinary care, and failure to employ an attending veterinarian, has resulted in injury – and even death – to a number of their animals, including ESA-protected animals such as Nala, Gizzy, Dot, Mama, Lizzie, Promise, Petunia, and Young Yi.”

“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.”

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act in December. The legislation, with nearly 200 cosponsors in the House and Senate in the 117th Congress, seeks to ban the trade in big cats as pets and to halt the exploitation of the animals for cub petting at roadside zoos — two forms of commerce that have been creating a stream of big cats who soon get too big and dangerous to handle and then are discarded by the industry and face subsequent peril.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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