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Federal court crackdown forces 'Tiger King's' Jeff Lowe to surrender big cat cubs

Judge seeks to prevent further suffering, death
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Posted at 10:19 AM, Jan 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-19 12:19:58-05

LAS VEGAS — A new federal court order is shedding light on the conditions prosecutors say big cats have been living in at a facility run by Jeff Lowe of "Tiger King" fame. The judge ordered all cubs a year and younger, and their mothers, to be removed, and placed at "reputable facilities."

The court order forces Lowe and his wife Lauren to surrender all big cat cubs and their mothers for temporary relocation. It comes as part of a larger federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Animal Welfare Act.

The court claims it's the only way to prevent further suffering and death.

"Their welfare comes second to their entertainment value," argued Jeff Dixon of the Humane Society of the United States.

HSUS has long claimed the animals you see in the Netflix documentary series "Tiger King" are victims. Especially when they're repeatedly bred so the cubs can be used to make money.

With the latest court order, the federal court took away the Lowes' ability to do that.

The court has also ordered the Lowes and "anyone acting on their behalf" to immediately stop exhibiting animals without a license. The Lowes are also ordered to hire an attending veterinarian, provide proof of veterinary care, and provide records of what happened to animals authorities say have been missing since June 2020.

Court records say 60 of 200 animals are unaccounted for.

The Lowes have tried to argue that their tigers, ring-tailed lemurs, lions and jaguars are not protected by the Endangered Species Act because they're hybrids.

The judge isn’t buying it.

USDA inspectors have documented what they call a "pattern and practice" of animals not getting adequate food or veterinary care and living in unsanitary conditions leading to illness and injury at the Lowes' (now former) roadside zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.

As KTNV first reported, Lowe transferred animals from that zoo to Las Vegas in 2017.

Several, including a tiger, liliger and lemur, were seized by Las Vegas Animal Control.

Lowe subsequently pleaded guilty in that local case, which involved illegally using big cat cubs for pricey photo opportunities in Las Vegas neighborhoods.

After being kicked out of the Wynnewood Zoo three months ago, the Lowes moved to a new location in Thackerville, Oklahoma, where they're building a new zoo.

The feds say Lowe is using the unlicensed facility to exhibit approximately 150 protected animals to the public, and that they're doing it amid a continued pattern of animal welfare violations.

Court records reveal the recent deaths of two cubs less than one week apart.

Another cub had to be euthanized on Dec. 21. A USDA veterinarian found "the Lowes’ failure to provide her with proper nutrition and adequate veterinary care caused this animal to suffer greatly before she had to be euthanized at the age of 10 months.”

She’d suffered from severe dehydration, malnutrition and multiple bone fractures--so many that she was no longer able to walk, according to prosecutors.

Another example details the suffering of a mother tiger bred repeatedly, resulting in multiple stillbirths for which the Lowes allegedly did not seek veterinary care.

In June, that mother tiger had to have emergency surgery after her last litter of stillborn cubs. She died two days later due to complications.

Court records detail many other failures of care, which the feds say caused multiple tigers to suffer and die unnecessarily.

The Lowes have argued that they are not an exhibitor because the Thackerville location is still under construction and not operational.

They also claimed to the court that they're within their legal rights to post videos of their animals online through paid subscription services Cameo and OnlyFans. They even say one of the videos posted for paid subscribers was taken by a former nanny who lived with the Lowes in Las Vegas.

The court disagreed with all those arguments, saying the online videos have been used to promote the 2021 opening of the new Tiger King Park.

And the court found "Irreparable harm would result" if it didn’t force the animal's surrender and impose the other conditions surrounding those animals the Lowes are being allowed to keep.

Jeff Lowe is still facing legal troubles in Las Vegas due to alleged violations of his plea agreement. The case is due back in court in mid-February.

Lowe did not respond to our request for comment and an automated email response from his lawyer, Daniel Card, said, "I am currently out of the office for a family emergency."

To read the full federal complaint - click here.

This story originally reported by Darcy Spears on KTNV.com.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated who was listed in court order, only Jeff and Lauren Lowe were ordered to surrender big cat cubs and their mothers.