'Tiger King' Zoo Facing More Animal Mistreatment Allegations

The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park is facing another incident in a long line of controversies. On June 25, both PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and the Garvin County Sheriff's Office both reacted to claims of animal mistreatment at the zoo. A whistleblower took pictures of lions at the location, which was infamously featured in Netflix's Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. Those big cats were seemingly suffering from signs of flystrike, a condition where flies severely bite animals and lay eggs on them.

Garvin County Sheriff Jim Mullett issued a statement saying his office received "numerous calls regarding the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park and the welfare of the animals." The department then called on the USDA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife to investigate the matter. USDA was in the process of inspecting at the time, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife had already conducted one. He noted that "animals that are injured are receiving veterinarian care in isolation and being monitored by the USDA." A department later elaborated that one of the park's lion cubs "was placed in isolation for medical reasons."

PETA condemned the situation, writing, "A whistleblower has provided PETA with photos and video footage of juvenile lions suffering from severe 'flystrike'—a condition in which flies, usually drawn to uncleared animal waste, bite other animals and lay eggs on them and the hatched maggots eat away at their skin — which is destroying their ears, at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (G.W. Zoo), operated by Jeff Lowe. PETA is now asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to confiscate animals found to be suffering and to revoke Lowe's license to exhibit animals.

"Flystrike, which can occur at facilities with poor sanitation practices, is a painful condition — and photos of one lion's ears show them raw and bloody, with the tips damaged. Another image shows a juvenile lion's ears blanketed in flies. Veterinarians who observed the documentation have opined that the wounds would be extremely painful and that if the lions aren't appropriately treated immediately, they risk losing their ears."

Tiger King talking head Brittany Peet, who is PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement, chimed in on the matter, placing blame on the former zoo owner Joe Exotic, current operator Jeff Lowe and the USDA for the conditions. "The USDA's inaction allowed 'Joe Exotic' to abuse and neglect animals for years, and so far, it's also failed to help the big cats held by Jeff Lowe," Peet said. "In the wake of Tiger King, the public eye is on the USDA to do its job and shut Lowe and his despicable roadside zoo down pronto."

As for Lowe's side of the story, he tried to downplay the fly problem and deflect blame onto local news stations, who allegedly had helicopters flying over the property. He said the helicopters were "harassing the animals" and could cause them to leap out of their enclosures.

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"(You're) hearing all kinds of stories, I'm sure, that 'the flies are bothering our animals.' You know what bothers animals more than flies on their ears? The helicopters from the news stations that are hovering the park and scaring the animals," Lowe said in a Facebook video. "We're taking care of the fly problem. We've done it for years; it's been this same way for years. We've spent hundreds upon thousands of dollars to get fly eradication. That's the reason we're moving, one of the reasons we're moving. This park was built poorly, across from 600-head horse ranch. We're doing our best, folks."

Lowe is currently running the park, but he will be forced to move his operation soon. A judge ruled that Tiger King subject and animal advocate Carole Baskin will soon take ownership of the park due to a previous settlement with Exotic.