On January 15, 2021, a federal court issued an injunction in favor of the United States and against Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park LLC and Tiger King LLC, based on alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act and Animal Welfare Act.
U.S. District Court Judge John F. Heil III ordered the Lowes to immediately hand over all Big Cat cubs under one year of age and their mothers to the government on pending restraint. The court also ordered the defendants to keep a treating veterinarian and to keep records of all animals acquired and disposed of since June 2020. The court also ordered that the defendants and anyone acting on their behalf, including Eric Yano and Stephens Lane LLC, cease displaying animals without a valid license from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“The Lowes have shown a shocking disregard for both the health and welfare of their animals and the law,” said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources. “We are pleased that the court agrees and has ordered Mr. Lowe no longer to ignore his obligations under the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act.”
“This decision sends a clear message to both licensed and unlicensed exhibitors about the scope of the Animal Welfare Act,” said Tyler S. Clarkson, acting general counsel of the USDA. “USDA looks forward to continuing its close partnership with the Department of Justice to bring these cases and enforce the Animal Welfare Act.”
The court found that the Lowes’ failure to ensure safe conditions, proper nutrition and timely veterinary care resulted in harm to a number of animals, including the deaths of two baby tigers less than a week apart. This evidence suggested that the defendants’ remaining animals, protected by the Endangered Species Act, were in danger of harm, and convinced the court to grant the government’s request for restraining order and the request for restraining order. The court also found that the defendants ‘pattern and practice of providing substandard care and failure to employ a qualified veterinarian seriously endangered the health of the defendants’ animals under the Animal Welfare Act and required an injunction. Although long allowed by law, this case marks the first time the government has sought a civil injunction under the Animal Welfare Act.
The court was not convinced by the defendants’ argument that they were not “exhibitors” within the meaning of the Animal Welfare Act, as the zoo was still under construction. The court found that Lowes’ prior licensing and display of animals promoted the opening of Tiger King Park, made their animals available to the public through online platforms as compensation, and allowed camera crews on the property to watch a show on Netflix film an “exhibiting” within the meaning of the Animal Welfare Act.
Litigation attorneys from the Wildlife and Marine Resources Division of the Environment and Natural Resources Division are handling the case. You will be assisted by attorneys from the Civil Department of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. The case is being investigated by the USDA Plant and Health Inspection Service and the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service.
The case is United States v Lowe et al., No. 20-423 (ED Okla.).