The zoo featured in the Netflix phenomenon Tiger King closed permanently to the public on Tuesday after its federal animal exhibition license was suspended.
The current owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, Jeffrey Lowe, announced the closure in a Facebook post, blaming ‘the pressures’ of animal rights charity PETA and its ‘spies’.
Lowe, who also starred in the series, took over the park after its original owner, Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for hiring a hitman to kill animal rights activist Carole Baskin, as well as numerous animal abuse charges.
The closure of Greater Wynnewood comes just over two months after a federal judge ordered the zoo be handed over to Baskin as part of a ruling in a $1 million trademark dispute.
That ruling gave Lowe and other park operators 120 days to vacate the premises and remove all of his animals.
‘The Tiger King phenomenon has definitely change our lives in many way,’ Lowe’s statement read. ‘It has brought us more attention than any human deserves, good and bad. It has, and probably will continue to make us a target of every nutjob and animal rights loon in the world, but we are prepared.
‘It has also provided us with an unfathomable source of income. Income that will guarantee the long term care of our animals and allow us to be very selective going forward.’
The report of a USDA inspection at Wynnwood found multiple animal welfare violations including several repeat violations.
Among the encroachments, inspectors found that the only refrigerated storage area for animal food was a broken refrigerator truck that zoo officials claimed had recently been fixed.
‘The inspectors asked for the invoices for the repairs and were handed an invoice for a tractor repair,’ the report says.
Lowe claimed the USDA was accusing him of a ‘litany of falsehoods’. He said the agency suspended his license – allowing him to buy and sell animals – the day after he contacted them, expressing his desire to suspend it.
The controversial figure blamed animal rights groups for the decision, citing their incessant harassment of the USDA.
‘The very agency that has given my facility five consecutive perfect inspections, has now folded to the pressures of PETA and continue to make false accusations against me,’ Lowe continued.
While the public will no long be able to access the privately owned zoo, Lowe told fans to be rest assured ‘that all the animals will continue to have excellent care’ and the park will continue to operate, in a new capacity.
‘Our new park will, at least for the foreseeable future, be a private film set for Tiger King related television content for cable and streaming services,’ Lowe said. ‘This was in fact a decision that we made more than a month ago and was the huge news that we spoke about on Facebook a couple weeks ago.’
It was reported this week that Netflix had allegedly secured the rights to a second season of Tiger King. Thanks to the show’s popularity, there are also a number of spin-offs on the way, including an eight-part series staring Nicolas Cage.
‘So, thanks to all the people who have visited the Wynnewood Zoo over the years!’ he continued. ‘We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.’
Tiger King, which became a huge hit on Netflix at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March, tells of Joe Exotic, a flamboyant polygamist owner of a private zoo in Oklahoma and his rivalry with self-proclaimed animal activist Carole Baskin.
Their feud even extended to Exotic – real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage – using logos for his park that resembled those owned by Baskin and her Big Cat Rescue company.
Baskin sued Exotic for trademark infringement in 2011. The case ended two years later with the latter being ordered to pay Big Cat Rescue $1 million.
In 2016, Big Cat Rescue sued Exotic’s mother Shirley Schreibvogel, claiming he had fraudulently transferred his zoo to her to avoid paying Baskin and other creditors.
US District Judge Scott L Palk ultimately found the transfer had been made to ‘remove [the zoo] from the reach of Big Cat Rescue’, court documents show.
Tensions between the pair continued to escalate. Maldonado-Passage was arrested in 2019 and convicted of 17 animal abuse charges and two counts of murder for hire.
He was found guilty by a federal jury of hiring one of his associates at the cost of $3,000 to travel to Florida to kill his big cat rival, Baskin in November 2017. Exotic promised to pay the man more after she was dead.
When the associate failed to go through with the act, Exotic met with another potential assassin the following month who turned out to be an under FBI agent.
While Exotic continues to protest his innocence, during the Netflix documentary series, the 57-year-old was heard making repeated threats to kill Baskin during his daily web broadcast, in which he coined the phrase ‘That b**** Carole Baskin.’
Exotic also made a number of accusations that Baskin killed her ex-husband, Don Lewis, who vanished without a trace in August 1997. Exotic claimed that Baskin had murdered Lewis and fed him to her tigers – an accusation she denies.
The documentary series renewed interest in the cold case, but it is yet to be formally reopened by investigators.
Lewis has never been found, nor has any evidence to suggest he was murdered, though authorities have previously stated they don’t believe he disappeared on his own volition.
Dailymail.com reported back in May that shortly after his disappearance, Baskin – his wife at the time and the last known person to see him alive – produced Lewis’ will and his power of attorney that gave her complete control of his $5 million estate.
But one of Lewis’ ex-attorneys, Joseph Fritz, said he now believes his client’s signature on both of the documents are actually forgeries.
DailyMail.com was told ‘Sorry no comment’ when approaching Carole Baskin with questions regarding the claims.
Baskin is now facing a lawsuit from Lewis’ surviving family members, who are also offering $100k reward for any information about what happened to him.
They say they hope the lawsuit forces Baskin to give evidence on the record about what happened to Lewis.
Lewis disappeared a day before a scheduled trip to Costa Rica. Deputies found his van abandoned at a nearby airport.
Police found no signs of a struggle or blood inside — nor did they find proof that Lewis ever left the country. Lewis was pronounced legally dead in 2002.
In 2004, Baskin refused to take a polygraph test related to the investigation on the advice of her attorney.
The disappearance of Lewis became a key narrative thread in Tiger King. Baskin has since slammed the show as ‘salacious and sensational’, and riddled with ‘unsavory lies’.
The Big Cat Rescue owner is reportedly requesting a fee in excess of $1 million to appear in the second season of the show.