The pandemic has been a weird time. Numerous things gained popularity that may not have if people hadn’t been stuck indoors. Plenty of people picked up baking, while others started gardening. Streaming services hit an all-time high. One television show in particular that caught the public’s eye was Tiger King. The show brought to life the insane world of the exotic animal trade, with a heavy focus on the show’s namesake, tigers. Now, one of the most infamous stars of the show, Jeff Lowe, has been banned from exhibiting animals for the rest of his life.
The sentencing comes from the U.S. Justice Department nearly a year after the confiscation of Lowe’s animals. Between January and August of 2021, the Department confiscated 146 animals from Lowe for legal reasons. The reasons are the illegal taking, possession, and transporting of endangered or vulnerable animals.
For those who don’t know, Jeff Lowe was the former business partner of Joe Exotic, the star of the hit Netflix Series, Tiger King. In 2016, Jeff Lowe took over the zoo that Exotic and he had both worked on together, and with it he took all of the animals. Joe Exotic was arrested and sentenced to 22 years in prison for murder-for-hire and wildlife-related crimes in January of 2020. While these are the events that the Netflix series focuses on primarily, Jeff Lowe was also in legal troubles of his own.
In November of 2020, the Department of Justice sued Jeff Lowe and his wife, Lauren Lowe, in a civil case. This case related to repeated violations of two acts; the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act. They violated these acts by failing to provide their animals with proper nutrition, veterinarian care, proper enclosures, and sanitary conditions. By failing to do so, the Department of Justice concluded that the couple were presenting serious danger to the health of the animals.
The case didn’t come to fruition from the Netflix series, however. There were observations of many animals at their zoo that led to the charges being filed against them. Among these observations were a lion cub laying unresponsive in the mud, arthritic wolves being forced to live on a concrete pad, and a bear so deprived of nutrition that its bones were showing through its coat.
Most of these conditions, it seems, were born out of spite. In June of 2020, Lowe had been ordered to forfeit the site of his animals to Carole Baskin. The property was being given to her as a way of settling a long-standing legal dispute between the two. The animals were being poorly taken care of before that point in time, but the conditions only grew worse.
In October of 2020, Lowe’s license to exhibit exotic animals had been taken away. This was one month prior to the larger civil case that was brought against them in relation to the violation of the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act. While his license had been forfeited permanently, Jeff Lowe continued to display the animals by electronic means. He was using applications like Cameo to display animals online. At that point in time, no laws existed to stop him from doing so.
Confiscations started in January 2021, and would not stop until August 2021. In total, all 146 of Jeff Lowe’s animals were taken away, to be properly cared for by existing animal sanctuaries.
This week’s decision against the Lowes was the last in a long line of charges brought against the couple. While the charges regarding the violation of both acts were dropped, a settlement was made that stops the couple from exhibiting animals for the rest of their lives. Jeff Lowe believes that the charges being dropped are proof that he’d done nothing wrong. Still, the animals have been taken from his ownership, and he can no longer run a zoo. Legally, that is.
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The charges brought against Lowe are a precedent. This is the first time that the Department of Justice has ever brought a case regarding the Animal Welfare Act in relation to electronic means of display. As such, the laws will be different from here on out, with Jeff Lowe to thank.