Is Jeff Lowe’s new attempt to raise his net worth actually illegal?
Jeff Lowe is milking his Tiger King appearance with even more opportunities for the public to watch exotic animals, but his most recent venture could still be illegal. As animal rights groups continue to wage war against exotic zoo owners, Lowe is still trying to use his animals & his newfound Tiger King reputation to his advantage.
Lowe had his license to exhibit animals suspended in August, but he continued to show off his animals and made many plans to carry out his work even after the USDA’s attempt to shut Lowe down. Here’s what we know about Lowe’s new ideas and why he might be in even more legal trouble in the future.
Jeff Lowe & the Tiger King
It feels like a lifetime ago, but the Tiger King docuseries that shook the streaming world released at the end of March and rocketed Joe Exotic & the other tiger exhibitors to pop culture fame. Lowe took over Joe Exotic’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park when Exotic went to jail.
Following the success of Tiger King, Lowe capitalized on his newfound fame. He’s made his own merchandise, features animals on his $100 Cameo videos, and is planning on re-launching his zoo as “Tiger King Park”. Instead of showcasing animals to the public, he will use the park as a “private film set for ‘Tiger King-related content’”, according to National Geographic, with two reality shows in the works.
Trouble with the USDA & PETA
After tiger & exotic zoos gained popularity following the rise of Tiger King, the USDA took a proactive approach to inspect the zoos shown in the series. They first visited Lowe’s zoo in June 2020 and found a number of sick & injured animals. USDA inspectors also found the attending veterinarian, who is required to make monthly check-ins, had only visited twice since early 2019, according to National Geographic.
The inspectors notified Lowe, but when they returned in July to see if there were any substantial changes, National Geographic reported “little had improved” and the vet still didn’t visit the park. Even worse, the inspectors made note of a “odor of decaying flesh”, according to National Geographic, and found a truck full of rotting meat. They also couldn’t track thirty-four out of about 200 animals who were later deemed missing.
This isn’t Lowe’s first run-in with unfit animal practices. The PETA Foundation wants to sue him over concerns of the Endangered Species Act, according to National Geographic. PETA cited multiple violations including removing animals from their mothers too early.
Suspended zoo license
Following the USDA’s inspections, Lowe’s license was suspended for twenty-one days starting on August 17th because of his multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act. In response, Lowe denied the claims and decided to forfeit his license, according to National Geographic.
Since the USDA didn’t take any animals during their inspection, Lowe still owns most of his animals and features them on his social media. In addition, animals have made appearances in two paid Cameo videos since losing his license.
Did Lowe find a loophole?
Lowe’s plan to have a “virtual” zoo without a license might be a loophole, as he’s not opening a zoo to the public, but USDA spokesperson Andre Bell told National Geographic Lowe’s new zoo could be violating the Animal Welfare Act because film or TV work is a “regulated activity”.
Lowe revealed on Facebook he plans to sue the USDA and claims he’s innocent while the USDA made “false accusations” against him. He blamed animal rights groups like PETA for the USDA’s intervention.
Director of the Animal Law Litigation Clinic Delcianna Winders told National Geographic Lowe is one of the “top players” in “tiger exploitation”. Winders also suggested Lowe “one of the leading reasons” tigers are being bred in U.S. roadside zoos. National Geographic notably found there are more captive tigers in the U.S. than tigers in the wild.
If the USDA doesn’t move forward with legal action against Lowe for his social media posts, it could produce a dangerous precedent for possibly allowing the exploitation of animals, according to National Geographic. However, it’s been difficult to enforce because of vague internet regulation.
Delcianna Winders gave National Geographic a warning about the possible consequences of not pursuing Lowe’s exhibition of animals through paid videos. By not taking legal action, it could “incentivize” a new industry of monetizing animals on social media “without any oversight”.
PETA’s deputy general counsel of captive animal law enforcement Brittany Peet told National Geographic she was concerned about Lowe’s animals because, by forfeiting his license, it’s harder to check on his animals. Peet says USDA now needs a warrant if they want to check on the animals’ living conditions.
Progress on big cat litigation
Tiger King was criticized for not investigating the unsafe zoos animal rights activists have been trying to expose. However, with more people watching the docuseries, there’s been more attention to stop these unfit zoo-owners from running their parks. While Lowe continues to feature animals in paid videos, one caveat is his inability to market cub-petting activities to the public.
In addition, while the USDA wasn’t able to take all of Lowe’s animals, three vulnerable cubs were able to go to Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary thanks to a separate court case. When Lowe missed a deadline to remove animals from his zoo on October 4th, Lowe also had to give up sixteen animals to the Wild Animal Sanctuary, where they will all live in substantially bigger habitats.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act is currently sitting in the House of Representatives. Made by lawmakers & animal welfare groups, if passed, the act would “prohibit commercial breeding, public handling, and ownership of big cats as pets”, according to National Geographic.