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Authorities raided the Oklahoma zoo belonging to Jeff and Lauren Lowe, and seized over 60 of their big cats in the process. The pair -- who gained notoriety as subjects on the Netflix docu-series Tiger King -- are accused of violating the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday that federal authorities "seized 68 protected lions, tigers, lion-tiger hybrids, and a jaguar" from the couple's Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma.
"The Justice Department will seek civil forfeiture of these animals and any offspring pursuant to the ESA’s forfeiture provision," the DOJ release shared.
According to the announcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service conducted three different on-site reviews and inspections of the park since December, and multiple citations were issued during the inspections.
"The Lowes received citations for failing to provide the animals with adequate or timely veterinary care, appropriate nutrition, and shelter that protects them from inclement weather and is of sufficient size to allow them to engage in normal behavior," the release explained. "The Lowes were recently found in contempt after months of noncompliance with court orders requiring the Lowes, in part, to employ a qualified veterinarian and establish and maintain a program of veterinary care that meets the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act."
The seizure warranted was executed the US Marshals, and the animals were taken into protective custody by the government.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams, of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement that the seizures of the animals "should send a clear message that the Justice Department takes alleged harm to captive-bred animals protected under the Endangered Species Act very seriously."
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid, of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, stressed that the seizure of the animals is a perfect example of "how effective civil forfeiture can be when utilized in conjunction with statutes like the Endangered Species Act."
"We are proud to have partnered with the Environment and Natural Resources Division to protect these amazing animals, and will work to ensure that they go to responsible animal preserves where they can be safely maintained rather than exploited,” McQuaid added.
ET has reached out to Lowe for comment.
In June 2020, Big Cat Rescue owner, and fellow Tiger King subject, Carole Baskin was awarded ownership of Joe Exotic's former zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma -- which was then owned by Jeff, before he and Lauren moved their operation to Thackerville.
The outspoken zoo owner spoke with ET's Lauren Zima at the time and he had some choice words about the legal development, and said the zoo would be in a state of "complete hell" when she got her hands on it.
"I mean, because I'm not taking care of it as we leave," said Lowe, who was given 120 days to vacate the property, including all animals currently living there. "The bamboo is about taking this place over."
The years-long contentious legal battle between Baskin and Exotic -- whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage -- was the primary focus of the megahit Netflix documentary.
According to Lowe -- whose own complex legal and personal relationships with Exotic and Baskin played a large role in the documentary and Exotic's eventual incarceration -- he had been expecting this ruling for some time, which is why he started planning his move to a different area of Oklahoma.
"It’s always been our intention to leave this place," Lowe said of the Wynnewood location. "We don’t particularly like it here, because of its geographical location. It’s not a great place for a business, it was poorly constructed, so we’re happy to let her have it… I wish her all the luck in the world, and she can have these 16 acres of haunted memories."
"We don’t care about the TV show, we don’t care about Carole Baskin, we care that these animals finally get the life that they deserve," he said of himself and wife Lauren, who joined him for the interview. "That’s why we’re anxious to get down to Thackerville."