The 'Tiger King' Zoo Is Under New Management. What Does That Mean for the Exotic Cats Who Live There?
Joe Exotic’s (real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage) Oklahoma-based exotic animal park featured in the popular Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness was recently re-opened for business. The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park closed for a month due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, its re-opening on April 24th was greeted with long lines of visitors hoping to see tigers and more.
Visitors didn't get to meet Joe Exotic at the park — he’s currently serving 22 years for solicitation of murder and various wildlife-related offenses. Those visiting the park instead found Exotic’s former business partner, Jeff Lowe, and his wife, Lauren, interacting with visitors. Other park employees featured on the Netflix series, such as tiger trainer Erik Cowie, were present at the park as well.
However, things took an unexpected turn when a judge ordered Lowe and his wife to vacate the property in 120 days. In an ironic twist, Carole Baskin, archrival of Joe Exotic, will soon take over the property. This is how it happened.
How Jeff Lowe Gained the Park ...
In 2011, Joe Exotic was successfully sued for $1 million by Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue for trademark and copyright infringement. He transferred his park to his mother, Shirley M. Schreibvogel, to keep creditors and Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue from seizing it to collect on his debts. His mother later transferred the park in 2016 to Lowe, who continued to use it as a wildlife attraction.
During that time, Lowe got into his own legal troubles by failing to pay around $50,000 in taxes for that year as well as additional taxes since then. To complicate the situation even further, Lowe was an investor in Exotic’s original park and passed information on to the police that led to the former owner’s arrest, and Exotic is suing him and a slew of federal agencies in response.
… and Lost It
Schreibvogel, Exotic’s mother, was herself sued by Big Cat Rescue after the park was transferred to her. She later admitted under oath that the park was fraudulently transferred, and her testimony led to the judge’s ruling that Lowe must vacate the park.
While Baskin will take possession of the property, Lowe will keep his animals. He plans to move them to a new facility he’s constructing a new facility elsewhere in Oklahoma. In the meanwhile, there have been several accounts of animal negligence in his park, which he kept open even after a court order connected to his troubles requiring him to cease business operations.
Lowe seems mostly unbothered by the ruling. In an official statement, he wrote, "Please don't worry about our animals. As you saw on the Netflix documentary, I have been building the greatest Tiger Park the world has ever seen. Thanks to our loyal fans and customers, and the amazing people who work at the zoo, the new Tiger King Park is opening in Thackerville, Oklahoma, this September, directly adjacent to the world's largest casino, Win Star World Casino and Resort."
What About Carol Baskin's "Big Cat Rescue"?
On the surface, it might seem like Baskin's Big Cat Rescue is similar to Tiger King Park. After all, both locations feature big cats on display for entertainment purposes. However, there are several key differences between Big Cat Rescue and Tiger King Park.
Big Cat Rescue does not breed or sell animals. The animals on display are rescues from private ownerships as pets, animal performance acts and other situations where the cats were previously in danger or poorly treated. Big Cat Rescue is also a no-contact facility, meaning neither the public nor the staff touch the animals. Because the purpose of sanctuaries like Big Cat Rescue is to educate the public rather than to entertain, animals are given space to hide from the public when they wish, remain outside even when the park is closed and are cared for even into old age.
Baskin hasn’t finalized plans for Exotic’s old park. Considering how complicated everything involving Joe Exotic seems to get, it would be surprising if more drama doesn’t unfold.