Tiger King subject Jeff Lowe, best known for appearing in the Netflix documentary series as one of the business partners of Joe Exotic, has found himself in the news again. The zoo owner was the subject of a civil complaint filed today by the United States Department of Justice which named he and his wife Lauren, plus Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park LLC, and Tiger King LLC, all alleging inhumane treatment and improper handling of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act. The complaint alleges many violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Animal Welfare Act and even asks the court to relinquish some of their animals to the care of the United States.
“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,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill of the Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a statement. “Exhibitors cannot evade the law simply by shutting out the USDA and moving their animals elsewhere. The Department of Justice will support the USDA in pursuing those who violate federal animal protection laws.”
“Animal exhibitors, whether they exhibit in person or on-line, must possess a license and provide adequate care for their animals as provided for by Animal Welfare Act regulations,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) General Counsel Stephen A. Vaden added. “This action reflects the priority that USDA places on the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.”
The complaint notes that the Wynnewood facility, up until August of this year, housed several animals protected by the Endangered Species Act including tigers, lions, other big cats, a grizzly bear, and ring-tailed lemurs. Inspectors from the USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service found "numerous animals in poor health and living in substandard conditions" over the summer with the failure of the Lowes resulting in "untimely death" for some of the animals. Some of the animals "were underweight and suffering from nutritional deficiencies."
The complaint concludes with a note of something Lowe has said publicly, and which viewers of the Netflix docu-series will recognise as a Joe Exotic staple, as the legal strategy of “If we lose a lawsuit, we simply change the name and open another business someplace else.” Having "previously claimed to be above the law," the DOJ seeks to remove the animals from their care and shut down all of their parks.