Jeff Lowe, the owner of the Oklahoma zoo featured in Netflix’s Tiger King, has been banned from exhibiting animals – in a facility or online. However, Lowe also dodged all civil charges pertaining to the many animal cruelty accusations made against him.
Lowe took over of the facility, the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, in 2016, according to National Geographic.
Prior to this, the zoo was run by Joe Exotic, who rose to infamy after the 2020 release of Tiger King. The true crime docuseries was watched by more than 34 million people in its first ten days of release.
Tiger King details the chaotic life of Exotic and the operations at his zoo (which primarily housed big cats). Further, it also highlights numerous animal welfare concerns and violations linked to the facility.
The same year the series was released, Lowe’s license to publicly exhibit animals was suspended for 21 days. In response, Lowe voluntarily forfeited his license. But announced he would keep profiting off the animals by showcasing them online and on television instead.
Lowe then transported the animals to a new facility, Tiger King Park, also in Oklahoma.
He claimed he would use the park as a private film set to produce “Tiger King-related content.” He was already featuring the animals in paid shout-out videos via Cameo. But he revealed plans to release two reality tv shows as well.
In November 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil complaint against Lowes, his wife Lauren, and their animal park.
The DOJ accused the couple of violating the Endangered Species Act and the Animal Welfare Act, and “placing the health of animals in serious danger.”
The Lowes reportedly denied animals proper veterinary care, failed to provide adequate food, and kept animals in unhygienic, inappropriate enclosures.
Investigators found arthritic wolves in cages without bedding, living on concrete floors. A grizzly bear whose bones could be clearly seen beneath her skin was also seized, as well as a lion cub named Nala who was lying unresponsive in the mud.
Moreover, two tigers’ bodies were discovered underneath a pile of burned rubble. National Geographic noted that the animals’ corpses were attracting biting flies that left “bloody wounds” on nearby tigers, bears, and wolves.
Profiting off showcasing animals online
Last week, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Oklahoma approved a consent decree for the Lowes. The decree bans the couple from ever exhibiting animals – in person or online – again.
It marks the first time that the Animal Welfare Act has specifically included animals being shown online for money. Animal law attorney Carney Anne Nasser told National Geographic it was the “most aggressive civil enforcement action against an animal exhibitor in the history of the Animal Welfare Act.”
Delcianna Winders, director of the animal law program at Vermont Law School, says the decree could have a far-reaching impact.
“This is significant,” she said. “If someone else were to try to exhibit online without a license, the USDA or DOJ could swiftly enforce and say, here is the precedent. It’s unequivocal. There is no loophole.”
Dropped civil charges
Moreover, the decree dismisses all civil charges made against the Lowes, but does not outlaw the department from pressing criminal charges.
Lowe was pleased by the result. “The DOJ had no option but to drop all charges against us,” he said, per National Geographic. “That’s what happens when the evidence doesn’t support the allegations.”
He also stated that “the DOJ was fed a pack of salacious lies to justify stealing my animals.”
Between January and August of this year, 146 animals were removed from the couple, National Geographic says. It was the justice department’s largest ever zoo animal seizure.
The animals now live in multiple sanctuaries across the US, including Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, and Lions, Tigers and Bears in California.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado took in 81 big cats as well as other animals.