Fact or Fiction: Feds Can Seize Animals from Roadside “Amateur” Zoos

This is fact! The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that forty-six lions, seven tigers, fifteen Ligers (lion and tiger hybrid), and a jaguar have been seized from the zoo featured in Netflix’s hugely popular series, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness.” This show had more than a 64 million viewers in its first four weeks and ranked among the top most-watched shows on Netflix. Its eccentric characters were so unforgettable that a spin-off fictional series was created that will star Nicholas Cage as Joe Exotic – the now imprisoned “Tiger King”.

A civil petition filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in November 2020 accused Jeffrey Lowe and his wife Lauren Lowe, the current owners of the roadside zoo, of malnutrition and improper handling, causing deaths of animals. The Lowes acquired the animals in 2016 from Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, after he was sentenced to federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, for 22 years. Joe Exotic was convicted for his participation in a murder-for-hire plot of big cat-loving rival, Carole Baskin, and wildlife law violations. The DOJ alleges that the couple has been actively involved in the illegal trade of endangered species and in treating these big cats inhumanly, which violates the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Carole Baskin Image Source: newyorktimes.com

The allegedly illegal 33-acre private zoo in Thackerville, Oklahoma, named Tiger King Park, was inspected three times since December 2020 by the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Multiple citations were issued to Jeff and Lauren Lowe to provide adequate safety and health conditions for the wildlife. The officials stated the Mr. and Mrs. Lowe were hostile during the inspections and even threatened to kill a wildlife official.

Image Source: nypost.com

During the inspections, the animals were found to be underweight and suffering from severe malnutrition due to a diet of only boneless chicken, which lacked essential nutrients. The animals were provided horse weight-gain supplement “Gleam & Gain,” which was improper for them. The official documents described visible damage to the animals, such as stunted growth, skin lesions, and neurological abnormalities.

The inspectors also mentioned several issues with sanitation, including rotting carcasses in cages, piles of dead animals, bones not disposed of correctly, animals covered with pests biting open wounds. The couple was also in contempt of a court order to hire a professional veterinarian to ensure the proper care and treatment of animals mandatory under the Animal Welfare Act.

Which Federal Laws Apply to the Tiger King Park?

The federal Animal Welfare Act is the only Federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of live and deceased animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. The Endangered Species Act, enforced by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, protects species at high risk of extinction, both in the wild and in captivity. This law prohibits unlawful captivity, harm, or harassment of imperiled species. The big cats at Tiger King Park were protected under both laws. This law also prohibits exhibition of animals without a license and authorizes the government to remove the animals from dangerous conditions and to relocate them to a safe place.

What do you think? Should zoos like Tiger King Park be legal? Should they be more regulated?

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