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Carole Baskin’s Tampa rescue granted ownership of Joe Exotic’s former zoo

Judge says Oklahoma property from ‘Tiger King’ must be surrendered, and all animals removed.
Joseph Maldonado-Passages answers a question during an interview at the zoo he ran in Wynnewood, Okla. in 2013. The zoo property was awarded to a Tampa animal sanctuary on Monday.
Joseph Maldonado-Passages answers a question during an interview at the zoo he ran in Wynnewood, Okla. in 2013. The zoo property was awarded to a Tampa animal sanctuary on Monday. [ SUE OGROCKI | AP ]
Published Jun. 2, 2020
Updated Jun. 2, 2020

The site of Joe Exotic’s infamous private zoo will soon become the property of a Tampa tiger sanctuary.

A federal judge in Oklahoma on Monday ruled the 16 acres containing the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park must be surrendered to Big Cat Rescue Corp. within 120 days. Several buildings where zoo employees live and a fleet of vehicles were included in the judgment.

The private zoo, formerly known as the G.W. Zoo, was featured heavily in Netflix’s Tiger King. The series documented the life of eccentric zookeeper Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, and his long feud with Carole Baskin, CEO and founder of Tampa sanctuary Big Cat Rescue.

Big Cat Rescue was awarded $1 million in a trademark infringement lawsuit against Exotic in 2013. The zoo property was later transferred to Exotic’s mother Shirley Schreibvogel, who was sued by Big Cat Rescue in 2016.

Related: Carole and Howard Baskin say ‘Tiger King’ makers betrayed their trust

In a summary judgment, Judge Scott L. Palk ruled the transfer to Schreibvogel was fraudulent and intended to keep the property out of reach of her son’s creditors, including Big Cat Rescue.

Monday’s ruling requires the operators of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, who own the zoo business and lease the property, to leave and remove all of the animals. The zoo’s current owners are Jeff and Lauren Lowe, who took over the zoo from Exotic and were also featured in Tiger King.

“Over a year ago Mr. Lowe announced plans to move the animals to a location in Thackerville, Oklahoma that he has been constructing and he claims will be a better facility,” Baskin said in a statement emailed to the Tampa Bay Times. "He recently stated that he had funds to complete the zoo and a contractor who could complete it in a few months.

“If the need arises to make other plans to place the animals in new homes, Big Cat Rescue and the animal welfare organizations that have previously successfully placed big cats from large facilities in new homes stand ready to assist.”

Palk was the same judge who presided over Exotic’s criminal case. The zookeeper was sentenced in January to 22 years in prison for paying a hitman $3,000 to kill Baskin, and for shooting five tigers at the Oklahoma zoo. The hit was never carried out.

Related: Hillsborough sheriff says tips are coming in 'Tiger King' missing millionaire case

Baskin and her sanctuary have for years crusaded against private zoos and zookeepers like Exotic who buy, sell and breed exotic cats.

The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park recently reopened to the public after closing due to concerns over the coronavirus. Media reports showed visitors posing for photos with Jeff Lowe and zoo employee Allen Glover, the man who Exotic was convicted of hiring to kill Baskin.