During his tenure at G.W. Zoo, Joe Exotic housed hundreds of big cats. Many of those animals have since been rescued from the park, which is now permanently closed. In fact, activists estimate the cats are all over the U.S.
“Because Joe was such a notorious breeder, there are cats that originated from Joe Exotic’s facility in literally every sanctuary in America," Matt Simmons, whose organization Wolves and Warriors helped save two lions and 26 wolves from the G.W. Zoo, explained in Animal Planet’s 2020 documentary Surviving Joe Exotic. "He’s not patient zero, but he’s kind of that hub that everything grew out from because he was just pumping these kittens out left and right.”
Some animals were rescued before Exotic — whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage — left G.W. in 2018. The previous year, Wild Animal Sanctuary founder Pat Craig worked alongside PETA to move 19 tigers from GW to his 789-acre Colorado refuge after a Florida judge determined the animals were shipped to Exotic illegally. (The Tampa Bay Times reported that the tigers were transported 1,200 miles in a cattle truck in the middle of summer.) Craig told the Washington Post that Exotic later requested he return to Oklahoma to take an additional 20 cats and three black bears. Now, 39 of the big cats are under Craig's care and roaming the Colorado prairie near Keenesburg.
Not all of Exotic’s animals were so lucky. The Tiger King subject was convicted in April for several wildlife violations, including allegedly killing five tigers, though he claimed in a lawsuit that he was falsely arrested and imprisoned. He’s now serving a 22-year prison sentence for those charges, in addition to a charge for allegedly attempting to hire two hitmen to kill Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin.
As for the zoo itself, Jeff Lowe took ownership in 2016. However, an Oklahoma federal judge awarded Baskin ownership of the zoo in June 2020. Following the ruling, the Humane Society of the United States issued a statement urging that the remaining animals be transferred to "proper sanctuaries so that they will never suffer again at the hands of unqualified hucksters like Jeff Lowe and Joe Exotic."
Lowe continued operating the renamed Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park before permanently closing the park in August 2020. Baskin offered Big Cat Rescue's aid in re-homing the animals still at the zoo, but Lowe declined, later explaining to People that he was relocating them to his new Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma. However, in May 2021, the Department of Justice announced the seizure of 69 big cats — including 46 tigers, 15 lion-tiger hybrids, seven lions, and one jaguar — from Lowe’s Tiger King Park for violating the Endangered Species Act and Animal Welfare Act.
According to Minnesota’s Wildcat Sanctuary, all of the big cats seized were accepted by accredited sanctuaries throughout the country. And in August 2021, Baskin sold the GW Zoo, barring the new owners from using the property as a zoo or as a place to keep exotic animals for the next 100 years.
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