The U.S. government announced on Thursday that it is now in possession of “68 protected lions, tigers, lion-tiger hybrids, and a jaguar” that were seized from Jeffrey “Jeff” Lowe and Lauren Lowe, a married couple and zookeepers who were profiled in the Netflix docuseries Tiger King. The seizure of the creatures at Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma was “pursuant to a judicially-authorized search and seizure warrant, for ongoing Endangered Species Act (ESA) violations,” the government said.
The Department of Justice said that a stipulation in the federal case against the Lowes authorized the government to inspect Tiger King Park three times since Dec. 2020. To hear the government tell it, those inspections did not turn up good results for the Lowes.
“During these inspections, the Lowes received citations for failing to provide the animals with adequate or timely veterinary care, appropriate nutrition, and shelter that protects them from inclement weather and is of sufficient size to allow them to engage in normal behavior,” the press release said, noting that the Lowes were found in civil contempt of court as recently as May 14.
U.S. District Judge John F. Heil III found that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that the Lowes “are in civil contempt” for violating the court’s orders. Judge Heil started fining the Lowes $1,000 a day until they were in “full compliance” with the court’s orders:
Having found Defendants in civil contempt, and having considered the undisputed information provided regarding Defendants’ financial resources, the Court HEREBY ORDERS that:
(1) Defendants shall be fined $1,000 per day, beginning May 12, 2021, until they are in full compliance with the requirements set forth in the Court’s January 15, 2021 and March 22, 2021 Orders. Dkt. No. 65; Dkt. No. 78;
(2) By May 28, 2021, the United States may submit an accounting of any actual damages it has incurred as a result of Defendants’ noncompliance for the Court’s consideration;
(3) The Court will consider further sanctions if Defendants are not fully compliant with its January 15, 2021 and March 22, 2021 Orders by June 11, 2021.
The government had alleged as follows, as the judge recounted it:
On April 12, 2021, the United States filed a notice of noncompliance, asserting that Defendants remained out of compliance with the Court’s orders. Dkt. No. 83. Specifically, the United States alleged that, as of April 12, 2021, Defendants had not submitted a program of veterinary care that complies with 9 C.F.R. § 2.40(b) and had not provided documentation to establish that the veterinarian they employed has the requisite training and/or experience in the care and management of Big Cats. Dkt. No. 83 at 3. The United States also alleged that Defendants had made no representation and submitted no evidence that they had ceased breeding their animals, that non-fixed male and female animals had been separated, or that the male and female animals remaining in the same enclosures had been neutered or spayed. Id. at 4. Further, according to the United States, Defendants had not conferred with the United States, sought leave from the Court, or produced any acquisition records for the births of new animals. Id. Finally, the United States alleged that Defendants still had not produced adequate acquisition and disposition records for the animals in their care. Id. at 4.
The judge said that the defendants presented “no evidentiary facts […] at the hearing to refute the United States’ allegations of noncompliance” and “fail[ed] to respond to the United States’ motion to enforce the Court’s January 15, 2021 Order and April 12, 2021 notice of noncompliance.”
The judge also didn’t seem concerned that a $1,000-per-day fine was too punitive for the Lowes. He cited their own statements about their finances — including that Lauren Lowe is making $10,000 per week on OnlyFans:
As to Defendants’ financial resources, the United States argued that Defendants have significant financial resources, citing several public statements made by Defendants, including an August 18, 2020 post on Facebook by Defendants that they had “millions upon millions of dollars in licensing deals that will pay for anything,” which was corroborated by Defendants’ counsel at a January 8, 2020 hearing before this Court in which counsel represented that Defendants had licensing deals that provide them with revenue and the financial ability to care for the animals in their custody. The United States also stated that as recently as April 17, 2021 in an Instagram interview Defendants represented that Defendant Lauren Lowe is making $10,000 per week based on her Only Fans account and that a company out of Miami has given them almost $1,000,000 to produce videos. Defendants did not dispute any of the United States’ representations regarding the significance of their financial resources.
In January, the government slammed the Lowes for showing “shocking disregard for both the health and welfare of their animals, as well as the law.”
“We are gratified the court agrees and ordered Mr. Lowe to stop ignoring his obligations under the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said at the time.
Jeff Lowe appeared in Tiger King as a business partner-turned-adversary of Joseph Maldonado–Passage (a.k.a. Joe Exotic, and the “Tiger King” after whom the show is named). Maldonado-Passage is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence after a jury convicted him on allegations of animal abuse and hiring a hitman in an attempt to kill his Big Cat rival Carole Baskin. Joe Exotic sought a pardon from former President Donald Trump, but the clemency never came. Now he claims that he’s showing signs of cancer and is pleading with President Joe Biden for a pardon.
Lowe had taken over Maldonado-Passage’s Oklahoma-based zoo, but that facility–the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park–closed in August 2020. The federal government said that even though Lowe had given up his Animal Welfare Act license, he relocated the animals to a facility in the town of Thackerville and continued to exhibit them.
Lowe has denied “snitching” on Joe Exotic.
“We did not do anything. We did not rat on Joe. We did not snitch on Joe,” he said. “It’s sad that people think that we set him up, but what we did was we protected ourselves.”
“Lauren and I didn’t do anything wrong, so I’m not about to take the fall for Joe’s crimes,” he added.
You can read the May 14 civil contempt finding here:
Alberto Luperon contributed to this report.
[Screengrab via ABC 5]
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