Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park
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|Land area||16 acres (6.5 ha)|
|No. of animals||700|
|No. of species||50|
The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, which is sometimes called the G.W. Zoo and formerly the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park, was an animal park displaying predominantly tigers and other big cats in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.
The park is situated on 16 acres (6.5 ha) and began as a shelter for endangered and exotic species of animals. The park has been home to over 50 species of animals and 200 big cats, such as tigers, lions, puma, ligers and tigons. The Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park was established in 1999 by Joe Exotic and dedicated to the memory of his brother Garold Wayne Schreibvogel, who had died in a car crash in 1997. The park has been known by multiple names over the years, including "G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Foundation" and "The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Foundation".
In 2010, G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Foundation created Big Cat Rescue Entertainment Group, Inc. Big Cat Rescue Corp., run by Carole Baskin, a critic of the park's practices, filed suit against them, claiming the name and logo similarities were used to damage their reputation and cause confusion. The defendants counter-claimed, stating that Big Cat Rescue had caused them financial loss. In February 2013, a judge rejected the counter-claim and Exotic agreed to a consent decree of approximately 1 million dollars. The park filed for bankruptcy and remained open to the public. A new park, The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Foundation, was incorporated shortly after the suit. The entity G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Foundation was dissolved and its assets, but not liabilities, were transferred to The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Foundation. Big Cat Rescue again filed suit on the premise that the new park was a successor to the first park and had the same personnel, income, assets, property, and overall business. In 2016, The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Foundation was determined liable and ordered to pay $1,028,000 USD and interest.
In May 2020, federal judge Scott Palk of the Western District Court of Oklahoma gave ownership of the park to Baskin after ruling that Exotic fraudulently transferred ownership to his mother to avoid paying debts incurred as a result of Baskin's suit. The judge ordered Lowe to vacate the park within 120 days. All animals must be removed from the property as well. After Lowe's license's suspension and departure, Baskin decided to sell the property, on the condition that it never be used as an exotic zoo or a tourist attraction.
Between February and June 2006, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights organization, investigated the park by having someone work at the park as an employee and obtain video footage of the animals and conditions, which PETA published. PETA alleged that animals were starved and "routinely hit, punched, kicked, sprayed with cold water, and struck with rakes and shovels." In 2011, the park's director filed a police report alleging that the employee illegally obtained access to the director's computer and copied files.
In 2012, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released a report from an undercover investigation. HSUS claimed that five tigers died during the period of their investigation, one of which did not receive veterinary care.
In May 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture cited the park for failure to provide adequate veterinary care. According to officials, an injured bear's wound reopened after a stitching, and an employee attempted to re-stitch it. The injury subsequently worsened and the bear was euthanized.
On October 6, 2017, Joe Exotic's husband, Travis Maldonado, fatally shot himself in the head. The shooting occurred in the business office while the park was open. The Garvin County Sheriff's office ruled that the shooting was accidental.
In September 2018, Exotic was indicted by a federal grand jury, and arrested by the FBI, for attempting to hire a hitman to murder Carole Baskin, chief executive officer of Tampa animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue. On April 2, 2019, following a jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Exotic was convicted of 19 counts: two counts of murder-for-hire, eight violations of the Lacey Act and nine of the Endangered Species Act. On January 22, 2020, he was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.
The 2020 Netflix original documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness was centered on Joe Exotic. The park received thousands of visitors following the release of the documentary. However, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt required that all non-essential businesses close because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 31, 2020, the Garvin County, Oklahoma sheriff said the park had closed to visitors in compliance with the governor's order to shut down nonessential business. The park has since been reopened.
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