Oklahoma City – Today, U.S. law enforcement agents, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seized dozens of animals from Jeff Lowe and his Thackerville menagerie today, all but closing out the plans of Mr. Lowe to resume public exhibition of the animals in Oklahoma after he took control of them in the wake of his separation from “Joe Exotic” Maldonado-Passage. Animal Wellness Action and its affiliates applauded the United States for its enforcement actions.
Early this year, U.S. District Court Judge F. Heil III, based in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, issued a hard-hitting preliminary judgment in favor of the United States and against Lowe, an exotic animal exhibitor, and dealer featured in the Netflix sensation “Tiger King.” The United States this summer 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 of the raid today in Thackerville. “These tigers have suffered enough. They belong in a safe environment and far from Lowe.”
In granting the motion from the United States for a preliminary injunction and a separate motion for a temporary restraining order earlier in the year, 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.”
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act in December by an overwhelming vote, eight months after the salacious reality television series “Tiger King” put the animal welfare and public safety issues of private ownership of tigers and lions on the American radar screen. 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.