Justice found Jeff Lowe at his “Tiger King Zoo” in Thackerville, Oklahoma on Monday. That’s when the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) confiscated 68 lions, tigers, lion-tiger hybrids and a jaguar from the property. This week’s confiscation of big cats is the culmination of a complaint filed by the DOJ against Jeff Lowe and his wife Lauren last November that accused the Lowes of “recurring inhumane treatment and improper handling of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act.”
These animals were long overdue for some good fortune. For years, Lowe operated with impunity in the exotic animal world—breeding big cats, using cubs for public handling, and trading animals off to substandard facilities. Along the way, Lowe racked up violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act—including repeated citations for failure to provide veterinary care—that led to the revocation of his U.S. Department of Agriculture exhibitor license in March.
Lowe was featured in the Netflix series "Tiger King" alongside a mullet-coiffed zookeeper named Joe Exotic, a pseudonym for Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who is serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison for his 2020 conviction on charges that he participated in a murder-for-hire plot and violated federal wildlife laws, including shooting and killing five tigers. The documentary showed that Lowe smuggled tiger cubs into hotel rooms in Las Vegas for private parties that allowed wealthy clients to pet and play with the babies. A tiger cub and a liliger cub ultimately confiscated by city officials were both found to be suffering from several health conditions, including chronic diarrhea and urinary tract infections.
In 2016, Joe Exotic sold his zoo to Lowe. Although he portrayed himself as the zoo’s savior, Lowe continued to operate just as Joe had—breeding big cats at a fast clip and charging the public to pet and play with the babies. It’s a horribly cruel practice for many reasons, not the least of which is that the cubs are taken away from their mothers at birth, fed irregularly, constantly woken from their sleep, and physically abused when they resist handling. At three to four months of age, the cubs can no longer be used for public contact. Which means more must be continually bred to replace those who “age out” and many of the cast-offs are sent to substandard facilities or into the pet trade. It is possible that India and Elsa, tigers recently found in residential neighborhoods in Texas and now being properly cared for at the Humane Society of the United States’ Black Beauty Ranch, began their lives as petting cubs.
Jeff Lowe’s harmful activities—and the enormous profits that incentivized his actions—were possible because we lack laws of substance to protect captive tigers, lions and other big cat species. The passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, now pending in Congress, would prevent other "Tiger King" wannabes from profiting off the lives of vulnerable big cats. We’ve all seen enough of this clown show, and it’s time to ring the curtain down on it.
Please contact your Representative and two Senators today and urge them to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act!