Mirage and Caesar, born in December 2020, were the latest in a long line of tigers to begin life at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, and among the first to escape the petting zoo’s breeding cycle and alleged mistreatment. from Oklahoma. The zoo has been closed to visitors since October 2020, and today, a court decision permanently bars zoo owners Jeff and Lauren Lowe from exhibiting animals to the public in a facility or online.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has seized the two cubs from the zoo, formerly owned by Joseph Maldonado-Passage, “Joe Exotic,” the star of the popular Netflix docuseries. tiger king—in January 2021 when they were about seven weeks old, along with eight other cubs and four mothers. Now, Mirage and Caesar live together on more than an acre of wooded land at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado. Soon, they will join more rescued young tigers in a 20-acre habitat at the sanctuary for the rest of their lives.
In January 2020, Joe Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in prison for murder for hire and wildlife offences. His former partner, Jeff Lowe, had taken over the zoo in 2016. But Lowe and Lauren found themselves in legal trouble of their own. Last November, the DOJ defendant the Lowes in a civil case, alleging they repeatedly violated the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act by failing to provide their animals with veterinary care, proper nutrition, enclosures, and sanitary conditions, putting the animals’ health at ” grave danger.” danger.”
Among the alleged violations prosecutors cited was a lion cub named Nala, who government inspectors found unconscious in the mud in June 2020. They also documented two arthritic wolves caged on a concrete floor, a grizzly bear whose bones were visible under his skin, cat with a lame leg and the bodies of two tigers buried under burned rubble. The carcasses attracted biting flies that inflicted bloody wounds on the ears of nearby tigers, bears, and wolves.
In June 2020, a federal judge ordered the Lowes to relinquish the property to Carole Baskin, owner of the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary, to resolve a long-running legal dispute.
After Lowe’s license to exhibit animals was suspended in October 2020, he lost it permanently. But he continued to sell “clapping” videos with his animals on Cameo, National Geographic informed. At that time, there were no laws related to the exhibition of animals online.
Between January and August of this year, the justice department seized 146 animals from Lowes, the agency’s largest seizure of zoo animals to date. Several sanctuaries have welcomed them.
Thursday, five weeks latertiger King 2, the new installment of the docuseries, premiered, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Oklahoma approved a consent decree that bans the Lowes from exhibiting animals.
“The case against the Loweses marks the most aggressive civil action against an animal exhibitor in Animal Welfare Law history,” said animal rights attorney Carney Anne Nasser. National Geographic at the beginning of this year.
“It is extremely rare for the Justice Department to bring a case like this,” he says. Delcianna winders, director of the animal law program at Vermont Law School. She says the justice department may have new priorities after the recent creation of her Animal Welfare Litigation Program under its environmental crimes section, which is dedicated to enforcing federal laws relating to the “humane treatment of captive, farm, and companion animals in the United States.”
Winders says he hopes it’s a sign that the justice department “will spring into action when people break the law in a similar way to the Lowes” and that it “happens faster than after years of suffering.”
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Lowe considers the settlement agreement a victory. “The DOJ had no choice but to drop all charges against us,” he says. “That’s what happens when the evidence doesn’t support the accusations,” he added, “The Justice Department was given a package of lewd lies to justify stealing my animals.”
As part of the consent decree, the civil charges will be dropped. The settlement reiterates the Justice Department’s allegations against the Loweses and does not prohibit the department from pursuing criminal charges.
setting a precedent
The agreement also clarifies for the first time that the Animal Welfare Act, enforced by the US Department of Agriculture and the only federal law in the country that protects the welfare of wild animals exhibited in zoos, aquariums and circuses, applies explicitly to the animals exhibited online. for money.
In his case, the justice department cited the sale of Lowes’ recognition videos on the online platform Cameo, an activity first reported by National Geographic. Today’s consent decree not only prohibits them from exhibiting animals in a zoo again, but also expressly defines that the exhibit occurs “through any other platform, including online for compensation in exchange for viewing the animals.”
“This is significant,” says Winders. “If someone else tried to exhibit online without a license, the USDA or DOJ could quickly enforce it and say, this is the precedent. It is unequivocal. There is no escape”.
For 146 animals, a new beginning
In all, the Justice Department seized 69 big cats, 11 ring-tailed lemurs and 52 other animals, including primates, bears, wolves, raccoons and Lowes’ kinkajous. The animals were sent to various sanctuaries, including Lions, tigers and bearsin California, and Trementine Creek Wildlife Refugein Arkansas.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary, in Colorado, took in not only Mirage and Caesar, but also 79 other big cats and various other animals. Pat Craig, the sanctuary’s founder, has visited the Lowes property several times over the past year to help remove animals.
“The animals were always malnourished and there were lots of rotting piles,” he says. “Some cages were built on dirt and sand, so the animals got a lot of sand on their feet. Many crooked legs and bone diseases due to lack of calcium.
Of those who survived, “almost all were devastated” by malnutrition, says Craig. The mothers had ataxia, a neurological condition that manifests as a lack of muscle control. Several white tigers are cross-eyed from inbreeding. However, when they arrived at the sanctuary, most were “running, jumping, exploring and having fun,” he says. “I bet it’s the first time they’ve ever raced, those cages they were in were so small.”
Caesar and Mirage are thriving, says Craig. “They definitely would have had metabolic bone disease if we hadn’t taken them out. And it’s so good to know they missed all those puppy petting.”
The Lowes continue to share photos and videos of their animal exes on Instagram, where they have 90,000 followers, without acknowledging the seizures. Meanwhile, Carole Baskin, the current owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, has just announced that she will be starring in his own reality showwhich, he says, will document his efforts to expose animal abuse at roadside zoos.
Wildlife Watch is an investigative reporting project between the National Geographic Society and National Geographic Partners that focuses on wildlife crime and exploitation. Read more stories from Wildlife Watch here and learn more about the National Geographic Society’s nonprofit mission at natgeo.com/impact. Send suggestions, comments and story ideas to [email protected]