WYNNEWOOD, Okla. (CN) — The Justice Department sued zookeeper Jeff Lowe of Netflix's “Tiger King” fame Thursday, accusing him of failing to provide adequate medical treatment for his animals and feeding them contaminated food before burning their dead bodies in makeshift wood pyres.
Federal officials sued Lowe, wife Lauren Lowe, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park LLC and Tiger King LLC in federal court in Muskogee, Oklahoma, for violations of the Endangered Species Act and Animal Welfare Act. They claim Lowe is “harassing and harming” over 200 animals by “failing to maintain sanitary conditions resulting in fly strikes.”
The lawsuit claims Lowe is taking tiger and lemur cubs away from their mothers for exhibition, causing “significant” physical and psychological injuries.
“Unless enjoined, defendants will continue to force Big [Cat] cubs and juveniles to interact directly with the public,” the 47-page complaint states.
Lowe purchased the Wynnewood zoo in 2016 from convicted felon Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, the star of the Netflix docuseries that featured several eccentric personalities in the tiger enthusiast community. Calling himself the Tiger King, Maldonado-Passage was convicted last year of trying to hire a hitman to murder rival animal sanctuary operator Carole Baskin of Tampa, Florida.
Federal officials claim Lowe has since moved his zoo approximately 60 miles south to a 33-acre property in Thackerville called Tiger King Park. They claim Lowe has continued to show animals without a federal exhibitor license that he voluntarily terminated three months ago to avoid government inspection.
“[Defendants] failed to employ an attending veterinarian and failed to provide timely and adequate veterinary care to the animals in their possession,” the complaint states. “The Lowe’s animals have suffered from and continue to suffer from easily preventable or treatable conditions, which in some cases has caused the untimely death of animals… [defendants] have then burned or otherwise disposed of the carcasses, including tigers, in makeshift pyres.”
The lawsuit claims some animals end up being lame and have neurological problems due to bone disease. It alleges the animals end up being “extremely thin,” singling out a grizzly bear named Gizzy who allegedly is so thin that his vertebrae, hip bones and scapula are visible.
Lowe could not be reached for comment Thursday evening, as a listed phone number was disconnected. He accused federal officials of being “arrogant and ignorant” due to no one outside of his team seeing the animals for two months.
“Their filing doesn’t have a single factual accusation in the entire document,” he told TMZ.com after the lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit comes five months after U.S. District Judge Scott Palk in Oklahoma City awarded the property that the Wynnewood zoo was on to Baskin to satisfy a $1 million trademark judgment she secured against Exotic. The judge agreed the property was fraudulently transferred to Maldonado-Passage’s mother in 2016 to avoid creditors. The judge ordered tenant Lowe to leave the property within 120 days and remove all of the zoo animals.
Lowe closed the original Wynnewood zoo in August after a veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted rotting food and lame animals during a July inspection.
Maldonado-Passage is currently serving a 22-year sentence at Federal Medical Center Fort Worth in Texas. He was moved from an Oklahoma jail due to other inmates testing positive for Covid-19.
In March, Maldonado-Passage filed a $93.8 million federal lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, U.S. Department of the Interior and several of his perceived enemies, claiming a vast conspiracy to take his animals away from him. He blames the defendants in that case for his mother’s death.
Maldonado-Passage has spent several months actively lobbying President Donald Trump for a pardon for his crimes. Trump joked in April that he would “take a look” at the case.Follow @davejourno
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