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Big cats rescued from ‘Tiger King’ park in Oklahoma find new home at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge

Published: Jun. 5, 2021 at 8:06 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 5, 2021 at 10:19 PM CDT
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EUREKA SPRINGS Ark. (KY3) - Federal officials have removed the last of the 68 big cats from the private zoo in Oklahoma that had been the center of the “Tiger King” saga.

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, located in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, recently assisted with the rescue of several big cats from Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma. The site was formerly owned by Joe Exotic, well-known from the 2020 Netflix series “Tiger King.”

The park, now owned by Jeff and Lauren Lowe, had to surrender 68 big cats to the federal government. Team members from Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge assisted in the rescue, bringing back 13 animals over two trips.

The cats rescued included lions, tigers, ligers and a few baby cubs.

“Lately it’s been the bigger places that are being seized. We have to work with the Department of Justice, and it’s kind of a scary situation because 40-50 armed people are going in and making it clear, so we can go in and do our job just to get the animals out of the situation” said animal caretaker Tayna Smith.

Turpentine Creek officials say the animals were segued because the Lowe’s failed to provide the animals with proper veterinary care, nutrition, and shelter. Though this is not an unusual case.

In the United States, there are 10,000-20,000 big cats in captivity and only 3-6% of those reside in accredited sanctuaries or zoos.

“The cub-petting industry has become very vast in these roadside zoos, where they are actually allowing you to hold a baby tiger or liger and get your picture made,” said Smith. “That may seem very innocent and harmless.”

But it’s not. Taking the cubs away from their mothers, they lack the nutrition they need to grow, and passing the babies around can break their fragile bones. Officials at Turpentine Creek are working to change that.

“We’re actually working on a federal bill with the Department of Justice to stop the cub-petting industry. I’m just elated whenever we can stop this cub petting because we will never be caught up, we’ll always be rescuing. This a problem we can solve in our lifetime, and that’s really important to me,” said Smith.

The bill is HR 263 and SB 1210. Known as the Big Cat and Public Safety Act, experts say it will help prevent big cat abuse.

“The biggest thing that I think is these animals will never have to live with the abuse that they endured before they came here. With these particular animals, what’s really interesting is that these cubs will never have to go through this, so there are so many animals that will never have to experience the abuse of cub petting facilities.” said Smith

To tell the difference between a reputable sanctuary and a roadside zoo that may be abusing the animals boils down to accreditation. A sanctuary or zoo accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the Big Cat Sanctuary Aliance, has to meet strict regulations when caring for the animals.

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