The Department of Justice filed a civil complaint Thursday against Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park LLC, and Tiger King LLC for the alleged inhumane treatment and improper care of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The DOJ’s press release explains that the federal government seeks to stop the abuse and illegal activity, take possession of certain animals, and allow the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to immediately inspect the defendants’ new and unlicensed exotic animal facility in a residential, rural area of Thackerville, Okla. The Lowes and the park were featured in a Netflix series released earlier this year.
The DOJ’s complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Oklahoma contends that the defendants have violated and will continue to violate the ESA by unlawfully “taking, possessing, and transporting protected animals, and the Animal Welfare Act by exhibiting without a license and placing the health of animals in serious danger.” Reportedly, the Lowes operated the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, located in Wynnewood, Okla., until August. The facility housed and displayed numerous animals protected by the ESA, including lions, tigers, other big cats, a grizzly bear, and ring-tailed lemurs.
The USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service inspectors visited in June and July and discovered unhealthy animals living in squalid conditions. Allegedly, the inspectors found animals infested with flies and suffering from nutritional deficiencies that made them “susceptible to fractures, unable to stand or walk,” and may result in neurological issues. The Lowes also reportedly separated big cat cubs and lemur pups from their mothers too early in their lives for “public ‘playtime’ events, resulting in long-lasting harm” to the animals.
According to the DOJ, when the USDA suspended Lowe’s Animal Welfare Act exhibitor license and initiated an administrative action to permanently revoke it, Lowe voluntarily terminated his license and “sought to put his operation beyond USDA inspection and investigation.” The DOJ also reported that Lowe has previously claimed to be impervious to regulation, stating, “(i)f we lose a lawsuit, we simply change the name and open another business someplace else.”
The DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division is handling the case. The USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service and the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service are also investigating the matter.