'Tiger King' Zoo Owners Ordered To Hand Over Big Cats to Government

A federal judge has ordered the owners of a zoo in Oklahoma that was featured in Netflix's wildly popular Tiger King documentary to turn over all the big cats in their possession to the federal government.

U.S. District Judge John F. Heil III issued the order against Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe and the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park based on claimed violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Animal Welfare Act last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a news release on Tuesday.

Heil ordered the Lowes to immediately surrender all big cat cubs and their mothers. They were also ordered to retain an attending veterinarian and provide records accounting for all animals acquired and disposed of since June last year.

The court also ordered the Lowes and anyone acting on their behalf to cease exhibiting animals without a valid U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) license.

The DOJ said the court found the Lowes' failure to provide safe conditions, proper nutrition and timely veterinary care had resulted in harm to animals in their possession, including two tiger cubs who died within days of each other.

Tiger at wild animal sanctuary in Colorado
One of the 39 tigers rescued in 2017 from Joe Exotic's G.W. Exotic Animal Park yawns while relaxing at the Wild Animal Sanctuary on April 5, 2020 in Keenesburg, Colorado. Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

The court also found the Lowes' pattern and practice of providing substance care and failure to employ a qualified attending veterinarian placed the health of their animals in serious danger under the Animal Welfare Act.

The Lowes had argued that they were not "exhibitors" under the Animal Welfare Act because the zoo was still under construction. However, the court found their prior licensure and exhibition of animals, their promotion of Tiger King Park's grand opening, making their animals available through online platforms for compensation as well as allowing camera crews on their property to film for the Netflix documentary constituted exhibiting.

"The Lowes have showed a shocking disregard for both the health and welfare of their animals, as well as the law," Acting Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill, of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement.

"We are gratified the court agrees and ordered Mr. Lowe to stop ignoring his obligations under the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act."

The decision sends "a clear message" to both licensed and unlicensed exhibitors of the Animal Welfare Act's reach, USDA Acting General Counsel Tyler S. Clarkson added.

"USDA looks forward to continuing its close partnership with the Justice Department to litigate these cases and enforce the Animal Welfare Act."

An attorney for the Lowes has been contacted for comment.

The Lowes took over operations of the zoo that was previously run by Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, in 2016.

Maldonado-Passage shot to fame after being featured in Netflix's Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, released last year.

He is serving a 22-year sentence in a federal prison in Texas after being convicted on charges that he participated in an unsuccessful murder-for-hire plot targeting his longtime rival Carole Baskin, who was also featured in the show, and violated federal wildlife laws.

He made headlines recently after requesting a pardon from outgoing President Donald Trump. However, he was not included on a pardon list released by the White House on Tuesday.