By Pat Craig, Guest Blogger
Founder and Executive Director of The Wild Animal Sanctuary, Keensburg, Colorado
Note from Sunny: I present this guest blog to assist in the education of the public regarding this lesser-known animal welfare crisis. The wider the educational efforts of all animal welfare enthusiasts spread, the more public involvement and advocacy will be possible.
The Captive Wildlife Crisis is real and there is no denying that it has been a long and arduous battle. One by one the offenders keep falling, but the key to winning comes only with true understanding of overall strategy. For decades the number of people who chose to buy exotic animals as pets, or to breed, was always on the rise. Much like the arcade game, “Whac-a-Mole,” as soon as one breeder would get stomped out, another would pop up somewhere else. Over and over the battle to reduce the number of breeders has raged on. By far, it has been the most critical aspect of the problem—especially since every time a new batch of tiger or lion cubs are born, they are usually broken up and sold individually across the United States.
At one point, the larger breeders had become so prolific that many started selling cubs to people in faraway places like Thailand, Guam, and Saipan. Others have chosen shorter routes like Canada and Mexico, and have been smuggling cubs into those countries on a regular basis. Either way, their actions have been much like our current viral pandemic, as they continue to breed and spread exotic animals from one end of our globe to the other. Without a plan to stop their breeding, there will never be an end to the Captive Wildlife Crisis.
Believe it or not, the highly controversial TV series that was inappropriately name, Tiger King, has turned into a hidden treasure! With its immense viewership skyrocketing to nearly 70 million households, and the lead character, Joe Exotic, ending up going to prison, a new day has dawned. The once highly secretive world of cub breeders suddenly found itself being exposed by the producers of this novel show.
Without fail, Joe Exotic and man of the other featured characters let their raging narcissism get the best of them. With an insatiable urge to be famous, this collection of tiger cub breeders ended up exposing both themselves and their questionable breeding practices to the entire world.
Thankfully, with Joe Exotic being the first character to be charged with wildlife and murder-related crimes, he gladly exposed the secret dealings of other major breeders in an attempt to throw investigators off track. As time went on and Joe Exotic realized he would be spending decades in prison, he decided to share specific illegal activities and practices with investigators purely as an act of revenge.
Ironically, at the same time, Joe Exotic and Jeff and Lauren Lowe were in the midst of their own personal war. As such, the three of them began a spree of “tell all” posts on social media. As each one tried to hurt the other with secret pictures, documents, videos, and audio recordings being released publically, endless facts and figures were being gathered by law enforcement officials, who were happily watching the feud unfold. The angrier each person got, the more hurtful information they shared.
Blinded by their rage, the three amigos gave prosecutors plenty of ammunition to use going forward. Additionally, each was more than happy to also share critical information with large animal welfare entities such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), with the intention of “paying back” much of the personal betrayals they felt took place.
In the end, Joe exotic was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison for his murder-for-hire plot, as well as multiple Endangered Species Act violations. Sadly, the wildlife charges revolved around Joe shooting and killing numerous tigers in order to make room at his overcrowded Wynnewood, Oklahoma Zoo. As time went on, while Joe sat in his prison cell, Tim Stark, Jeff and Lauren Lowe, and Doc Antle continued buying, selling, and breeding tigers and other exotic cubs. Soon, Jeff Lowe and Tim Start fell out of favor and began bickering with each other online in the same manner that Joe and Jeff had.
Again, sensitive information flowed across the internet completely untethered, while law enforcement officials continued to snag mound of the highly detailed information. Anger and threats continued to be the mainstay for quite some time until Tum Stark became distracted with his own issues closer to home. Having lost his legal battle with PETA, which focused on Stark’s questionable care of breeding of big cats such as lions and tigers, as well as intentionally cross breeding the two species to make genetic hybrids, Tim was now having to fight the State of Indiana as well.
State officials began prosecuting Tim Stark for animal welfare violations. As more animals continued to die in his care, the court system decided to intervene and remove all the animals from his property for safe keeping at other facilities. However, rather than cooperate with officials, Tim Stark chose to begin removing animals from his facility and hiding them in the woods, which blatantly went against the court order that had been issued. As he kept interfering with the efforts to help the animals, the court was left with no choice but to issue a warrant for Tim Stark’s arrest. Propelling his problems even further, Tim chose to go on the run and leave the state of Indiana.
He was eventually found in upper New York State and arrested. Over time, the court ruled that his non-profit entity was a sham and he was ordered to dissolve the corporation and repay all of the money he had taken for personal gain. The court also banned Tim Stark from owning exotic animals, which was a critical step. Without that specific restriction, Stark would have moved to another state and started breeding, buying, and selling exotic cubs again.
I thank Pat Craig for this enlightening article, which first appeared in The Wild Animal Sanctuary’s Summer 2021 News. To contact the Sanctuary or to donate, go to www.wildanimalsanctuary.org.
~Read Part Two in the next blog~