‘Tiger King’ Zoo Shut Down After Inspection by Feds

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, answers a question during an interview at his former zoo in Wynnewood, Okla, in 2013. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

WYNNEWOOD, Okla. (CN) — The roadside zoo formerly owned by Joe Exotic and featured in the hit Netflix true-crime docuseries “Tiger King” suddenly closed after federal authorities suspended the license of operator Jeff Lowe for alleged mistreatment of the housed animals.

The closure of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, announced late Tuesday, came after the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday suspended Lowe’s exhibitor license under the Animal Welfare Act. A USDA veterinarian noted several issues with the zoo during the agency’s most recent inspection of the property on July 8.

The inspection report noted that sales records for 34 animals were missing or unavailable and four tigers were unaccounted for. The inspection found two wolves were provided hay that was insufficient for bedding as prescribed by a veterinarian and that a fisher cat had not been examined or treated in spite of being lame on its left rear leg and having hair loss on its tail. The report alleges rotten meat meant for the animals was found in a refrigerator truck that was not functioning.

“The temperature inside the refrigeration truck was similar to ambient temperature which was greater than 85 degrees Fahrenheit,” the six-page inspection report states. “The park employee had just started spraying out the truck which contained open boxes of decaying liver and a pallet of boxes of liver in the middle of the truck.”

The zoo housed 20 animals, including five tigers, four lions, two bears, a red fox and a porcupine, according to the report.

Lowe took over the 16.4-acre zoo from Exotic – real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage – who is currently serving 22 years in federal prison for trying to hire a hit man to murder rival Carole Baskin, for falsifying wildlife records and for illegally selling tiger cubs.

Exotic, Baskin and Lowe became household names in March when “Tiger King” debuted. The show follows the eccentric personalities in the big cat enthusiast community, centering on Exotic and his feud with Baskin and her Tampa-based Big Cat Rescue that resulted in his 2019 conviction. Federal prosecutors said Exotic tried to have her killed since 2016 and offered $10,000 to undercover federal agents to do it.

Lowe said the animals are now cared for in “private hands” and claims he voluntarily forfeited his license.

“We have been contemplating this for weeks,” he posted on Facebook. “I will still allow my lawyers to prove the USDA is dead wrong.”

The zoo’s closure comes two months after a federal judge awarded the property to Baskin, finding Exotic fraudulently transferred the zoo to avoid paying her under an earlier $1 million trademark judgment against him. The judge gave Lowe 120 days to leave and remove all the animals.

Serving as his own attorney while behind bars, Exotic later filed a $93 million lawsuit against several federal agencies that he claims are in a vast conspiracy to take his animals away from him.

Exotic had gained a cult following on YouTube in the years before “Tiger King,” regularly posting videos featuring his flamboyant blonde mullet while swearing, firing guns and wrestling with his animals. Some of his highest-viewed videos feature him lip-synching to original country music songs about his animals and about Baskin, including one where he accuses her of killing her husband and feeding him to her tigers.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals applauded the USDA’s action, urging the agency to permanently revoke Lowe’s license.

“PETA looks forwards to seeing every one of the long-suffering animals at the G.W. Zoo be transferred to an appropriate facility where it won’t take federal intervention for  a sick cat to receive veterinary care,” said Brittany Peet, PETA Foundation’s deputy general counsel for captive animal law enforcement.

In a now-deleted Facebook post, Lowe said the “Tiger King” show has “definitely changed our lives.” He is currently preparing to open a new zoo near a casino in Thackerville that will produce more video content.

“It has brought us more attention than any human deserves, good and bad. It has, and probably will continue to make us a target of every nutjob and animal rights loon in the world, but we are prepared,” he posted. “It has also provided us with an unfathomable source of income. Income that will guarantee the long term care of our animals and allow us to be very selective going forward.”

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