More than five dozen big cats were seized by federal authorities during a raid at an Oklahoma zoo belonging to Jeff and Lauren Lowe, officials announced on Thursday.
The couple, who appeared in Netflix's docu-series Tiger King, have been accused of violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) after an investigation found instances of animal mistreatment at their Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release.
According to prosecutors, "68 protected lions, tigers, lion-tiger hybrids, and a jaguar" were seized in the raid.
Officials have conducted three inspections on the zoo since December 2020, during which 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 Justice Department said.
The pair also failed to comply with a court order mandating they employ a veterinarian and provide adequate care that meets the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act, according to prosecutors.
Ruaridh Connellan/getty Jeff Lowe
In an affidavit, officials alleged that many animals at the park had been "harmed and harassed" under the meaning of the ESA, including not being given proper shelter or nutritional care.
As a result, according to the affidavit, the animals "suffered greatly" and some were previously euthanized due to medical issues.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Walter Mosley, Jeff's attorney, said, "Jeff tells me to share with you to 'watch Tiger King 2 for the real story, not the story made up by a corrupt DOJ.' " It is unclear if there are any plans for another season of Tiger King at this time.
"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," Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a statement.
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"This important animal rescue operation of nearly 70 endangered and allegedly abused lions, tigers, and a jaguar shows how effective civil forfeiture can be when utilized in conjunction with statutes like the Endangered Species Act," added Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. "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."
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In June, Jeff was ordered by a judge to hand over ownership of The G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma — the zoo featured in Tiger King — to Carole Baskin, who was also featured in the Netflix docu-series.
Nearly two months later, Jeff announced in a since-deleted Facebook post that The G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park was closed "effective immediately" and that the animals there would be re-homed to the park in Thackerville.
At the time, Jeff said that the Thackerville park will "be a private film set for Tiger King related television content for cable and streaming services."