WYNNEWOOD, Okla. (NEXSTAR) – The Justice Department filed a civil complaint Thursday accusing “Tiger King” star Jeffrey Lowe and his wife, Lauren violating both the Endangered Species Act and Animal Welfare Act, accusing them of “inhumane treatment” of their exotic animals.
Inspectors are hoping a court will grant them access to the animals from Joe Exotic’s former Oklahoma zoo, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.
The Lowes lost their license in August after inspectors reported squalid conditions at the zoo. According to the complaint, the Lowes moved the animals to Thackerville, Oklahoma to create an unlicensed wildlife park called “Tiger King Park.”
“Exhibitors cannot evade the law simply by shutting out the USDA and moving their animals elsewhere,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice will support the USDA in pursuing those who violate federal animal protection laws.”
Lowe told TMZ Thursday “their filing doesn’t have a single factual accusation in the entire document,” adding that inspectors wouldn’t know what shape the animals were in since they hadn’t seen them in two months.
Past inspections found that the grizzly bear, ring-tailed lemurs, lions and other big cats at the Wynnewood zoo were living in conditions that led to poor health and even death.
“The Lowes’ failure to provide basic veterinary care, appropriate food, and safe living conditions for the animals does not meet standards required by both the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act,” Brightbill said.
Inspectors from the USDA said in June and July of 2020 that the Lowes’ failure to give their animals basic care resulted in nutritional deficiencies that left some animals unable to walk and susceptible to fractures. Other animals died from the lack of care, according to the complaint.
The Justice Department said inspectors found partially burned and decomposing big cat carcasses, along with rotting meat inside a broken refrigerator truck on the site.
The Lowes have also “routinely separated big cat cubs and lemur pups from their mothers at too early an age for public ‘playtime’ events, resulting in long-lasting harm,” according to the document.
One of those animals, a “lethargic, depressed, thin” lion cub named Nala was found lying in the mud, refusing to get up, with discharge from her nose and eyes, and sores on her ears. She was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection, dehydration, and urinary tract infection, along with multiple insect-related sores. She was treated at a wildlife sanctuary in Colorado in September where veterinarians diagnosed her with malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies so severe as to cause a chronic bone fracture and lameness.
The Justice Dept. is working to get a court order that would allow USDA and Fish and Wildlife inspectors inside the facility; stop the exhibition, purchase or disposal of any animals; and allow inspectors to examine any and all veterinary records.
After the closure of the Wynnewood zoo in August, the Lowes agreed to pay over $100,000 in taxes for unreported sales at the facility.
Joe Exotic is serving 22 years in prison after he was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot and found to have violated federal wildlife laws.