Ozarks refuge helps in rescue of nearly 70 big cats from ‘Tiger King’ park in Oklahoma
More than a year after the infamous show debuted on Netflix, all the big cats have been removed from Tiger King Park in Oklahoma.
The private zoo never opened to the public, but federal authorities completed the removal of the remaining 68 big cats from the property a few miles north of the Oklahoma-Texas border this past week.
Ten of those animals, one of whom gave birth to three kittens following the rescue, now reside at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
The Oklahoma zoo’s beginnings and its legacy were showcased in the final episode of the Netflix true-crime documentary series, "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness."
The zoo was previously owned by Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic. The big cats were removed from current owners Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe. According to a news release from Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a federal judge ordered the Lowes in January to surrender all big cats and cubs to the government.
The judge found that it was likely the Lowes had violated the Endangered Species Act and Animal Welfare Act.
The Department of Justice listed that the Lowes allegedly had a history of providing “substandard care” to animals at their park while failing to have safe conditions, proper nutrition and timely veterinary care, which may have led to several animals being harmed. At least two tiger cubs died less than a week apart, according to the DOJ.
This past week, the big cats, of different ages and species, were seized after the Lowes were deemed non-compliant, according to the wildlife refuge. Following three inspections since December 2020, the Lowes allegedly failed to provide proper care for the animals.
The DOJ contacted Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge to help in the rescue, and team members made two trips to Oklahoma. They also helped in transporting eight animals to other sanctuaries.
The 12 big cats at the wildlife refuge include lions, tigers, a liger and a liliger along with a jaguar and are undergoing medical examinations by the refuge’s staff veterinarian.
When the Netflix series first debuted, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge President Tanya Smith spoke with the News-Leader about the dangers of roadside zoos, specifically seen in the show.
"They’re speed-breeding these animals really quickly," Smith said in April 2020. "They’ll pull them from the mother immediately, and within a three-week period, the mother will come back into heat, just like a domestic cat would and then she could have another litter of kittens."
Big cats can potentially have a lifespan between 18 to 23 years, so the actions of roadside zoos can lead to a vicious cycle, Smith previously said.
"A lot of the animals have serious metabolic bone disease because of lack of proper nutrition," Smith said. "When they pull them from the mother so young, you know that they didn’t get that really important milk that gives them the nutrition to have a healthy life."
Due to ongoing court proceedings, Smith couldn’t discuss too many details of the current rescue.
“I’m elated the animals are out of the situation they were in,” Smith said. “They are going to take quite a bit of medical care.”
With the newest residents at the refuge, they will require proper veterinary care along with special diets. Smith said anything people can do to donate to the refuge’s general fund is appreciated. To donate, visit tcwr.org/donate.
What's the latest with Joe Exotic?
The main character in the Netflix documentary series was Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic.
He is serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison for trying to have his chief critic, Carole Baskin, killed and for other crimes. He claims he is innocent and that Jeff Lowe set him up.
Joe Exotic recently called on President Joe Biden to pardon him so he can go home and get "proper medical care" for prostate cancer.
USA Today contributed to this report.
Sara Karnes is an Outdoors Reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Follow along with her adventures on Twitter and Instagram @Sara_Karnes. Got a story to tell? Email her at email@example.com.