Jeff and Lauren Lowe, of Tiger King fame, are closer than ever to being brought to justice. By the end of that wildly popular Netflix documentary, the couple had assumed ownership of Joe Exotic’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (G.W. Zoo) in Oklahoma. This zoo, long a site of deplorable animal cruelty and exploitation, continued to operate in flagrant violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) under the Lowes. However, in the past year and a half we have seen their crimes and cruelty catch up with them.
In June 2020, during an inspection of G.W. Zoo, the US Department of Agriculture found geriatric wolves with pressure sores, a barely responsive 16-week-old lion cub, emaciated bears, decomposing big cat carcasses, and several cases of severe myiasis—a painful infestation of fly larvae. (See AWI Quarterly, fall 2020.) In August 2020, the USDA suspended the Lowes’ exhibitor license, meaning that they could still possess the animals but could no longer display them to the public. The USDA sought to revoke the license permanently, but the Lowes chose instead to voluntarily terminate it.
In November 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against the Lowes, alleging violations of the AWA and Endangered Species Act . The complaint described the “untimely death of animals” and the use of makeshift pyres to dispose of carcasses. It also noted that the Lowes were continuing to exhibit animals, despite surrendering their USDA license. The court directed the USDA to perform additional inspections of G.W. Zoo beginning in December 2020, during which the Lowes received citations for failing to provide the animals with adequate veterinary care, nutrition, and shelter.
In January 2021, a federal judge ordered the Lowes to surrender all their big cats under one year of age, employ a qualified veterinarian and provide veterinary care that meets the requirements of the AWA, hand over records accounting for all animals acquired and disposed of since June 2020, and stop exhibiting animals without a USDA license. A DOJ attorney stated, “The Lowes have showed a shocking disregard for both the health and welfare of their animals, as well as the law.”
Four months later, in May, the Lowes were found in contempt after they failed to comply with the court order. In response, the federal government seized 68 lions, tigers, lion-tiger hybrids, and a jaguar from the Lowes’ Tiger King Park. These animals went to reputable sanctuaries where they are receiving necessary care and can live out the rest of their lives in safety. In June 2021, a new DOJ filing noted that the Lowes were “unfazed” by the contempt finding and that additional sanctions were necessary, particularly because their “continued defiance of the Court’s orders puts the animals in their care in danger.” The filing recommends jail time, but also suggests that the Lowes could avoid additional sanctions if they surrendered their remaining animals to the government.
Capping off their spate of legal woes, Jeff and Lauren were arrested for DUIs in June. While the outcome of these legal battles is unknown, it seems likely that the Lowes’ days of evading punishment are numbered. The DOJ has demonstrated remarkable dedication to protecting the animals exploited by the Lowes, and seems determined to bring these infamous abusers to justice.