US seizes tigers, lions from 'Tiger King' park

© Agence France-Presse

Joe Exotic captured the imagination of Netflix watchers as the star of the true-crime documentary

Washington (AFP) - The US Justice Department said Thursday that it had seized 68 lions, tigers and lion-tiger hybrids as well as a jaguar from the former animal park of Joe Exotic, the star of the Netflix hit "Tiger King."

Justice Department officials on Monday raided the Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma for ongoing Endangered Species Act violations.

They said the current operators of the park, Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe, had repeatedly violated laws requiring appropriate care for animals and had not complied with an order to hire a qualified veterinarian.

"This seizure should send a clear message that the Justice Department takes alleged harm to captive-bred animals protected under the Endangered Species Act very seriously," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean Williams.

In an affidavit filed in US District Court in Oklahoma, a US Fish and Wildlife Service special agent described the park as actively breeding large cats without adequate care and without reporting the litters of baby cats as required.

"The animals will be at great risk of further harm and harassment in violation of the ESA if they are not seized by the United States," the affidavit said.

The Lowes, who were also featured in "Tiger King,"  took over the big cats park of Joe Exotic -- whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage -- in 2016 after the flamboyant businessman ran into financial and legal trouble.

Maldonado-Passage was arrested in 2018 and convicted a year later for trying to have a rival big cats park owner, Carole Baskin, murdered. He is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence.