Justice Department files complaint against 'Tiger King' couple, businesses

Animals linked to a "Tiger King" couple were underweight, unable to stand and documented with painful ulcerations on ears and legs, according to the U.S. Justice Department.


Animals linked to a "Tiger King" couple were underweight, unable to stand and documented with painful ulcerations on ears and legs, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The Justice Department has filed a civil complaint against Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe and two businesses regarding what it said was "recurring inhumane treatment and improper handling of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act." The couple appeared on the Netflix series "Tiger King."

An attorney for Jeffrey Lowe did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The complaint, which also involves Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park LLC and Tiger King LLC, calls for the defendants to give up animals protected by the Endangered Species Act, citing inadequate veterinary care causing animals to suffer from easily treatable conditions.

"In June and July 2020, USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service inspectors found numerous animals in poor health and living in substandard conditions at the Wynnewood facility," prosecutors said. "Animals were not provided with sufficient quantities of appropriate food and were underweight and suffering from nutritional deficiencies, making them susceptible to fractures, unable to stand or walk, and exhibiting neurological problems.

"The Lowes also failed to maintain sanitary and safe conditions, resulting in fly strikes on the animals’ bodies. Fly strike dermatitis is a preventable condition in which flies continuously attack, bite, and penetrate the skin of an animal. The flies lay eggs on open or irritated skin, causing infestations of maggots and painful sores. Inspectors also found foul-smelling, partially burned and decomposing big cat carcasses and a broken-down refrigerator truck containing rotting meat. They found no other properly refrigerated meat on site for the animals. The Lowes 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."

Agriculture Department inspectors directed the couple to get care for one lion cub, Nala, who was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection, dehydration and a urinary tract infection and suffering from fly strikes, parasites and fleas, the Justice Department said. She was transferred to a wildlife sanctuary in Colorado in September.

Prosecutors said the couple operated the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma until August, exhibiting numerous animals such as tigers, lions and other big cats, a grizzly bear and ring-tailed lemurs.

Video: 'Tiger King' zoo closes in August

After closing the Wynnewood zoo in August, the Lowes agreed to pay more than $100,000 in delinquent state sales taxes from sales at the zoo. Then, the federal complaint alleges they created an illegal, unlicensed wildlife park on a 33-acre tract in Thackerville, Oklahoma, named “Tiger King Park.”

"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 said in a statement. "Exhibitors cannot evade the law simply by shutting out the USDA and moving their animals elsewhere."

The federal investigation of the Wynnewood, Oklahoma, zoo made famous in Netflix’s “Tiger King” series began after an animal rights group accused it of neglect.

Joe Exotic, a pseudonym for Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is serving a 22-year sentence in a Fort Worth, Texas, federal prison for his January conviction on charges that he participated in a murder-for-hire plot and violated federal wildlife laws

The Associated Press contributed to this report.