The U.S. government has seized almost 70 big cats from an Oklahoma animal park operated by a star of “Tiger King,” officials said Thursday.
Sixty-eight lions, tigers and lion-tiger hybrids, and one jaguar, were taken from Tiger King Park in Thackerville, which is run by Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe.
The animals were seized for Endangered Species Act violations, the Justice Department said in a statement. They did not have proper shelter, food or veterinary care, the department said.
The Lowes were featured in the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” which focused on Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic.”
Maldonado-Passage is serving a 22-year prison sentence for a murder-for-hire scheme.
Maldonado-Passage previously ran a zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, which the Lowes also operated. Animals from that zoo were moved to Thackerville last year, the government has said in court documents.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas McQuaid said in a statement that the animals would go to “responsible animal preserves where they can be safely maintained rather than exploited.”
Jeffrey Lowe in a statement Thursday was defiant about the seizures.
“We all know that this has nothing to do with the care of animals. This is the direct result of Tiger King exposing the failures” of the United States Department of Agriculture, he said.
The statement did not elaborate but added “The USDA is in damage control and engaging in a smear campaign against us.”
At a hearing earlier this month, an attorney for Lowe told a judge the pair would give up the animals to resolve the civil complaint against them.
Attorney Daniel Card told the judge that the Lowes didn’t want to fight the case anymore and “want out completely,” according to The Associated Press.
The Justice Department says that Tiger King Park had been inspected three times since December and that the Lowes had been cited for failing to provide animals with proper veterinary care, shelter and nutrition.
A judge found them in contempt for not complying with court orders, including standards of veterinary care required under the Animal Welfare Act, the Justice Department statement said.
The Lowes didn’t employ a veterinarian that specializes in big cats, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent wrote in an affidavit.
Some of the big cats taken in January and moved to a Colorado animal sanctuary were underweight or had worms, and most had problems with their pads from being kept in wet environments, the agent wrote. Inspections found other underweight animals, and rotting carcasses left after feeding that were covered in flies, the documents say.
Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.