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Justice Department sues ‘Tiger King’ Jeffrey Lowe over treatment of animals

Jeffrey Lowe, the man who took over the wildlife park at the center of popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King,” was charged on Thursday with violating endangered species law and animal welfare law , prosecutors said.

On Thursday, the Department of Justice announced that it had filed a 110-page civil lawsuit against Mr Lowe and his wife, Lauren Lowe and the park, the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. in Wynnewood, Okla.

The lawsuit accuses the couple of violating endangered species law and animal welfare law by exhibiting unlicensed animals and endangering the health of their animals. The lawsuit asked the court to require the couple to surrender some of their animals to the government.

Mr Lowe’s attorney, James M. Wirth, said in a statement that the couple were “always attentive and kind to the animals in their care” and that the government had constructed a “fictitious interpretation” of the law on animal welfare.

“The government claims that because Mr. and Mrs. Lowe allowed a crew of documentaries on their property, they were illegally exhibiting wildlife,” he said. “According to the government’s artificial standard, anyone who takes a selfie of an endangered species in a zoo is an illegal exhibitor in violation of federal law.

Mr. Lowe is the latest character in the documentary, about the feud between exotic pet owners and animal rights activists, to face the government’s wrongdoing charges. Former park owner Joseph Maldonado-Passage was convicted last year for trying to hire a hitman to kill an animal rights activist who had criticized him.

Another owner of the park featured in the documentary, Bhagavan Antle, known as Doc, was charged in October with two counts related to wildlife trafficking and 13 additional felons.

Until August, Mr. Lowe and his wife operated the Oklahoma Wildlife Park previously owned by Mr. Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic.

The 16.4-acre facility was home to several endangered species law-protected animals, including tigers, lions, a grizzly bear and ring-tailed lemurs, according to the complaint.

In June, after a seven-year court battle, a judge gave the park to Carole Baskin, the animal rights activist who fought with alien tiger keepers in the documentary. Ms Baskin’s husband Howard Baskin said in a statement Friday that they hope the Justice Department is successful in removing the animals.

“The many very serious quotes from the USDA, in our opinion, clearly demonstrate that the Lowes should not be allowed to have animals,” he said, referring to the claims of Department of Agriculture investigators. .

In June and July, USDA Plant and Animal Health Inspection Service inspectors said they found some of the animals “in poor health and living in unsanitary conditions at the Wynnewood facility,” a violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Animal Welfare Act.

In the complaint, the Lowes were also accused of failing to provide “timely and adequate veterinary care”, which resulted in some of the animals “suffering from easily treatable diseases”. Some of those cases resulted in “premature” death, according to the complaint.

The inspectors found that the animals had not received a sufficient amount of food, were underweight and suffered from nutritional deficiencies.

Inspectors also said they found carcasses of large cats that had been partially burned and decomposing, and a broken refrigerated truck with rotten meat, according to the complaint.

“The inability of the Lowes to provide basic veterinary care, proper nutrition and safe living conditions for animals does not meet the standards required by both the Animal Welfare Act and the Animal Welfare Act. endangered species, ”said Jonathan D. Brightbill, Senior Assistant Attorney General. of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The complaint also accused the Lowes of regularly separating big cats from their mothers for “playtime” events with park guests, which could cause “lasting damage” to the cubs.

In one example, inspectors said they saw a lethargic and thin lion cub who had discharge coming out of his nose and eyes, and sores in his ears. They said the little one, named Nala, was later discovered to be suffering from an upper respiratory infection, dehydration, malnutrition and a urinary tract infection.

Nala was transferred to a Colorado wildlife preserve in September, according to the complaint.

In August, the USDA suspended Mr. Lowe’s Animal Welfare Act exhibitor license and attempted to revoke his license permanently.

Days later, Mr. Lowe voluntarily terminated his own license, according to court documents. The Lowes later moved their animals to a 33-acre property in Thackerville, Okla. They said their new facility there will be called “Tiger King Park” and will serve as a film set for TV shows. The Lowes are not licensed to exhibit animals, according to the complaint.

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