More than five dozen big cats were seized by federal law enforcement officers during a raid at an Oklahoma zoo owned by Jeff Lowe and his wife Lauren, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday. In a statement, the department said the pair, who were featured in the Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, is accused of violating the Endangered Species Act.
According to the release, "68 protected lions, tigers, lion-tiger hybrids, and a jaguar" were seized from Lowe's Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma following an investigation that included three inspections on the park since December 2020. Those inspections found that Lowe failed 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 release says the Lowes received citations for these and also says they also failed to comply with a court order mandating they hire a qualified veterinarian and provide ongoing, adequate medical care to the animals "that meets the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. The United States alleges that these violations as to ESA-protected animals also constitute violations of the ESA."
Officials in an affidavit in the case allege the animals had been "'harmed and harassed' under the meaning of the ESA." The affidavit adds that "USDA veterinarians observed that the conditions at Tiger King Park had declined since the February 2021 inspection" and says "there is probable cause to believe that the animals are not consistently being provided a sufficient quantity of food free from contamination." According to the affidavit, there were piles of rotting animals and a refrigerated truck "covered in flies, likely filled with putrid meat."
"This seizure should send a clear message that the Justice Department takes alleged harm to captive-bred animals protected under the Endangered Species Act very seriously," Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division said. In a statement to PEOPLE, Lowe's attorney, Walter Mosley, dubbed the seizure and investigation "corrupt," telling the outlet, "Jeff tells me to share with you to 'watch Tiger King 2 for the real story, not the story made up by a corrupt DOJ.'"
Lowe was featured on the hit Netflix docuseries, which released on the streaming platform in March 2019. The DOJ release comes after Big Cat Rescue owner and Tiger King subject Carole Baskin was awarded ownership of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, which had previously been owned by Joe Exotic before being owned by Lowe.