Citing deteriorating conditions and possibly pregnant cats, authorities seized dozens of animals housed at the former zoo made famous by the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King.”
(CN) — After a May 6 inspection of the park featured in the Netflix documentary series “Tiger King,” federal authorities sought the seizure of almost 70 big cats because at least one of the cats may be pregnant and cubs born there would be in “grave danger.”
An affidavit filed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Kevin Seiler in support for the search and seizure warrant said Jeff and Lauren Lowe, who currently operate Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma, may have violated a court order because they did not report any litters to the U.S. government.
“There is probable cause to believe that any cubs or juveniles on the premises are being or will be harmed and harassed and, therefore, unlawfully taken in violation of the [Endangered Species Act] as a result of the Lowes removing the animals from their mothers too early and then providing them with a nutrient-deficient diet, which puts those cubs at grave risk,” Seiler wrote.
Seiler said he is aware of five big cats less than a year old who have died since September 2020: three because of malnutrition and two “under suspicious circumstances.”
The Justice Department announced Thursday it seized seven lions, 46 tigers, 15 hybrid cats and a lone jaguar from Tiger King Park.
The park was made famous by the Netflix show “Tiger King” that was released in late March 2020, just as people began to hunker down at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Before Tiger King Park was operated by Jeff Lowe and wife Lauren Lowe, the show followed its previous owner Joseph Maldonado-Passage, known as Joe Exotic, who is currently incarcerated for hiring a hit man to kill his business rival Carole Baskin.
After an inspection in August, federal agents shut down the park to the public, citing a non-operating refrigerator truck of rotten meat, for instance.
In November, Jeff Lowe faced a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department alleging he failed to provide the big cats with medical treatment and fed them with contaminated food.
Federal authorities made subsequent inspections of the park. However, according to court documents, the May 6 visit showed conditions had deteriorated. The officials were greeted by the smell of rotting animals and found 16 of the big cats were thin or underweight.
Sieler said in his affidavit the May inspection was made more difficult because the Lowes interfered with the ability of the federal agents to search for and move the big cats, seemingly causing agitation in the animals when they screamed or attempting to startle them.
As a result, federal agents were only able to remove six of the eight animals they hoped to seize that day.
“When I provided Jeff Lowe with a copy of the property receipt, he aggressively snatched it from my hand and crumpled it up in his fist while engaging the entire time in the creation of a disturbance yelling and screaming profanities in an apparent self-scripted effort to film the exchange for what he had commented earlier would be sold to Netflix as ‘Tiger King 2,’” Seiler wrote.
An attorney who has represented the Lowes in the past did not immediately return a request for comment.
Laurie Gage, a big cat specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wrote in her affidavit she visually observed the big cats at the May 6 inspection. One cat, she said, had rubbed against the cage until a patch on the side of its face was raw, for instance.
While noting it is difficult to determine if a big cat is pregnant, Gage said she saw a female tiger housed with three males that “had obvious nipples and may be pregnant.”
Based on the way the Lowes have kept the animals and their “pattern and practice of overbreeding their big cats,” Gage said it was likely cubs were born or were about to be born at the park.
Nicholas McQuaid, acting assistant attorney general, said in a statement the seizure of the big cats demonstrated how effective a tool civil forfeiture could be in enforcing laws such as the Endangered Species Act. He added the Justice Department would “work to ensure that they go to responsible animal preserves where they can be safely maintained rather than exploited.”