Breaking news: ‘Joe Exotic,’ who kept hundreds of big cats in appalling conditions, found guilty of murder-for-hire and wildlife charges

By on April 3, 2019 with 9 Comments

The bizarre saga of a former Oklahoma roadside zoo owner, whose menagerie of hundreds of dangerous exotic animals was exposed in a 2011 HSUS undercover investigation, reached a dramatic conclusion yesterday when a federal jury found him guilty on charges that included killing five tigers and hiring a hit man to kill the operator of a Florida big cat sanctuary who is a leader in the fight to end private ownership of big cats nationwide.

Our investigation of the roadside zoo owned by Joseph Maldonado-Passage (a.k.a. Joe Exotic and Joe Schreibvogel) found dangerous exotics, including tigers, lions, bears, chimpanzees and other primates caged in barren conditions, bred to provide infant animals for public photo shoots and “play time” sessions, and often cared for by workers with little to no experience.

It was routine to pull newborn cubs, some just hours old, from their mothers to be hand-raised so they could be readied for handling by the public – an objectionable practice that is harmful to the cubs, devastating to the mother, and broadly condemned by wildlife experts. Customers were allowed to keep handling tiger cubs, even when the infants cried uncontrollably. Tiger cubs were “trained” by being punched in the face, dragged by leashes and hit with sticks. Sick and injured animals were routinely denied veterinary care.

Joe Exotic has a long history of breeding and dumping large numbers of big cats and bears. He has sent tigers to facilities that have lengthy records of USDA violations and have paid hefty fines for violations. Joe has also sent large numbers of lions and bears to Gregg Woody, an Illinois exhibitor who has collected lions and bears and then sent these animals to slaughter. In 2016, he sold his zoo to Jeff Lowe, although he remained in charge of day to day operations. Lowe is also a big cat exhibitor plagued with controversy, and the sale ensured that the animals would continue to suffer.

The HSUS works to expose the cruelty of roadside zoos because we know that allowing unqualified persons to possess dangerous wild animals is a formula for disaster. In 2015, we conducted an investigation at the Tiger Safari in Oklahoma that led to the USDA citing the facility for numerous violations, including failing to provide the animals with a suitable diet and water. The owner of that zoo, we learned yesterday, was assessed a $15,000 civil penalty by the USDA.

Such reckless disregard for wildlife is also why we are also supporting the Big Cat Public Safety Act in Congress. The bill would ban the possession of big cat species like tigers and lions by individuals and poorly run animal exhibitions that allow public contact with big cats.

Joe Exotic has not yet been sentenced, but he could face 20 years in prison. It is a fitting end to a life of crime that showed no regard both for human life and for the lives of numerous big cats and other animals who, because of him, will never know what it is like to live free.

Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Marie says:

    Please HSUS keep us informed as to the fate of these unfortunate animals.
    Hopefully they will at least get to live out their remaining years in a clean, safe facility.

  2. Nicola says:

    I am so happy he has finally been charged and hope he goes to prison for a very long time, I hope these animals will now be given the treatment and love and care they deserve
    Thank you to everyone that helped makes this happen

  3. Lynn says:

    It should be 20 per animal! Due to overcrowded prisons he could be out in 8-12 years.

  4. Angela Rawcliffe says:

    I do hope he is punished sufficiently for all counts, not only for the murder. He needs to be stopped and never allowed to work with animals again. The suffering these unfortunate animals had to endure is unimaginable.
    I hope the other people involved will so be punished, it’s about time these crooks were wiped off the face of the earth.

  5. Bonnie Dugan says:

    The rampant cruelty inflicted on so many animals by a man who doesn’t care. The hell they have all gone through. Hopefully, jail for life as that is what he deserves for his total unkindness & self centered actions.

  6. James H. Mundy IV says:

    Total ban of private ownership…….NO. Low priority and lack of resources. Not because of a personal agenda! How about increasing priority and government do its job of oversight…..apparently lacking resources and expertise. There are many individual private owners (not business exploiters such as roadside parks like the sponsor of this bill) of exotic Big Cats and other pets past and present who are successful compassionate, responsible and committed for the long term. They help raise awareness and educate communities that we humans can co-exist with wildlife. People must be educated and responsible………guidance is not out there for private ownership because of the stigma caused by the sensationalism of exploiters gone wrong. Come on, we are a free country based on individualism. Lets prioritize education as a solution…………

  7. Marjorie S Clark says:

    Hoping all animals get
    the medical they need and a great place to live out there life and hoping the cubs can learn how to live without their Mothers and not to much handling from people

  8. Christopher Goddard says:

    Has this guy been sentenced yet? It was supposed to happen within 90 days of the verdict. I know everything moves slowly in our justice system these days. Nothing comes up for me on a web search.

  9. Jed Chandler says:

    While it is great that this monster’s cruelty is over, iIt’s hard to understand why public ownership of big cats, or indeed any exotic animals, is permitted in the US.

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