On Dec. 23, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma entered a consent decree between the United States and Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe permanently prohibiting them from exhibiting animals, terminating their interests in 97 endangered or threatened animals seized from their facility, and affirming that they have legally abandoned their rights to an additional 41 animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
On the same day, the court granted the United States’ motion for a default judgment against defendants Tiger King LLC and Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park LLC, prohibiting them from exhibiting animals in the future, terminating their interests in the animals seized from the Lowes’ facility, and permanently placing the AWA-covered animals in licensed facilities selected by the United States. Together, this consent decree and default judgment resolve the claims in a civil enforcement action brought by the Department of Justice to address the Lowes’ recurring inhumane treatment and improper handling of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and AWA.
In November 2020, the Department of Justice filed a complaint against the Lowes and two business entities alleging that the defendants had violated and would continue to violate the ESA by illegally taking, possessing and transporting protected animals and the AWA by exhibiting without a license and placing the health of animals in serious danger. Starting in June 2020, inspectors from the Department of Agriculture Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) identified numerous animals in poor health and living in substandard conditions under the Lowes’ care, first at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and then at Tiger King Park, in Thackerville, Oklahoma. USDA suspended Jeffrey Lowe’s AWA exhibitor’s license, and Lowe then unilaterally terminated his license. Yet the Lowes continued to exhibit animals, both in person and for compensation via online platforms. In addition to exhibiting without a license, the Lowes did not provide timely and adequate veterinary care or nutrition, failed to maintain safe and sanitary conditions and housed animals in enclosures which were too small and exposed to the elements.
On Jan. 15, the United States obtained a preliminary injunction requiring the Lowes to relinquish possession of all Big Cat cubs under the age of one year and their respective mothers to the United States. In May 2021, after the Lowes violated other terms of the preliminary injunction order by breeding animals and failing to maintain and provide records regarding the health of the animals in their care, the United States executed two civil seizure warrants and took possession of 68 Big Cats and one jaguar that had been harmed and harassed in violation of the ESA. In August 2021, the United States secured the Lowes’ agreement to abandon their interests in all animals remaining at Tiger King Park, and the United States took possession of 11 endangered lemurs and 41 other animals.
Under the terms of the consent decree, the Lowes agree to permanently refrain from exhibiting animals or applying for any USDA license or registration. They also terminated their rights and interests in the 97 ESA-listed animals seized from Tiger King Park and agreed not to file any claim in the separate civil forfeiture action initiated by the United States with regard to those animals. Additionally, the Lowes affirmed the validity of the August 2021 abandonment form and agreed not to pursue legal action against the United States, or any facility involved in the removal, transport or care of the abandoned animals.
“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting endangered and threatened species and preventing the inhumane treatment of animals held in zoos and private facilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This consent decree ensures that the animals mistreated and endangered by the Lowes will be moved to a safe home in AWA-licensed facilities and prohibits the Lowes from exhibiting live animals again.”
“This consent decree demonstrates the commitment of USDA and the Department of Justice to work together to bring final resolution to this case,” said Deputy Administrator Dr. Betty Goldentyer of USDA APHIS’s Animal Care Program. “USDA is very proud of the hard work of our inspectors. It was their skill and expertise that allowed us to safely relocate all of the animals and end the mistreatment that was occurring at this facility.”
The case is being handled by Senior Trial Attorney Mary Hollingsworth and Trial Attorneys Briena Strippoli and Devon Flanagan of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Wildlife and Marine Resources Section. Senior Policy Advisor Darrin McCullough of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section assisted with this case and the parallel civil forfeiture action. The Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma provided valuable assistance. The case was investigated by APHIS and the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service.