Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park
Logo for the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.png
Date opened1999 (1999)
Date closedAugust 18, 2020
LocationWynnewood, Oklahoma, U.S.
Coordinates34°37′32″N 97°12′40″W / 34.62556°N 97.21111°W / 34.62556; -97.21111Coordinates: 34°37′32″N 97°12′40″W / 34.62556°N 97.21111°W / 34.62556; -97.21111
Land area16 acres (6.5 ha)
No. of animals700
No. of species50
OwnerJoe Exotic (1999-2018)
Jeff Lowe (2018-2020)

The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, alternatively known as the G.W. Zoo, Tiger King Park and formerly the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park,[1] was an animal park displaying predominantly tigers and other big cats in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, United States. The park garnered substantial public attention due to the 2020 Netflix documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, which focused on park founder and owner Joe Exotic.


Taliger at the G. W. Zoo, pictured in 2013

Situated on 16 acres (6.5 ha), the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park began as a shelter for endangered and exotic species of animals, and was home to over fifty species of animals and 200 big cats, such as tigers, lions, pumas, ligers and tigons. It was originally established as the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park 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.[1][2] The park was known by multiple names over the years, including the G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Foundation[3] and the Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Foundation.[4]

In 2010, G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Foundation created Big Cat Rescue Entertainment Group, Inc.[5] Big Cat Rescue Corp.,[6] an animal sanctuary based in Tampa, Florida, filed suit against them, claiming the name and logo similarities were used to damage their reputation and cause confusion;[7] the Tampa sanctuary's founder, Carole Baskin, had previously been a critic of the practices at Joe Exotic's park.[8][9][10][11] 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 US$1 million.[12] The park filed for bankruptcy and remained open to the public.[7] A new park, The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Foundation, was incorporated shortly after the suit.[4] 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 US$1,028,000 and interest.[13]

In 2011, the park was issued a rendering facility license by the State of Oklahoma.[14]

In 2016, Jeff Lowe purchased the park from Exotic, but left him in charge of daily operations.[9] Lowe, a businessman, had previously been convicted of mail fraud, and had run afoul of local authorities in Beaufort, South Carolina, in 2015 for exhibiting big cats at his liquidation store without appropriate permits.[15]

Lowe increased the zoo's menagerie from 29 animals in 2017 to 212 in 2020, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) records show; the zoo then had bears, lemurs and monkeys in addition to exotic cats.[16] In 2019, Lowe announced plans to close the park and move the animals to a new location near Thackerville, Oklahoma.[9]

The Wynnewood park was renamed "Tiger King Park" and was reopened in early May 2020 after a brief closure during the COVID-19 pandemic.[17][18]

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 and remove all animals.[19] In June, the USDA found that many animals at the park were suffering from flystrike, and on August 17, the agency suspended Lowe's exhibitor's license for 21 days, alleging poor veterinary care. Citing the incipient transfer of ownership, Lowe permanently shut down the park on August 18 rather than contesting the suspension.[16][20]

After Lowe's departure, Baskin decided to sell the property with deed restrictions prohibiting the keeping of exotic animals.[19] Baskin found the park to be heavily vandalized with rotting meat and graffiti referencing the disappearance of Don Lewis; Lowe denied responsibility for the damage.[21][22] Lowe relocated the animals to the Thackerville property, intending to open a new park there, but the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit citing Lowe's history of poor animal care; the park never opened and federal authorities seized all 68 cats in May 2021.[23]



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."[24][25] 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.[26]

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.[27][28][29]

In May 2014, the USDA 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.[30]

Large animals, including horses, were sometimes donated to the park and would be killed to feed the big cats.[1]

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 ruled that the shooting was accidental.[31][32]

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.[33][34] 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.[9][34] On January 22, 2020, he was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.[10]

Between 2017 and the closure of the park in August 2020, Lowe was under investigation by the USDA for failure to provide adequate veterinary care and ensure adequate separation between animals and visitors. The USDA also alleged that Lowe submitted falsified veterinary records to the agency indicating approval by the park's staff veterinarian after she had resigned in 2018.[16] By mid-2020, the Garvin County Sheriff was also conducting several investigations into allegations of animal abuse, unlawful disposal of animal carcasses, and environmental violations at the park.[35]

In December 2019, the Oklahoma Tax Commission placed a tax lien against the park property for unpaid sales taxes from 2016, and denied the park's tax permit renewal in May 2020. A park employee alleged that Lowe had ceased sales tax payments soon after taking over the park in 2016 and had continued operations later in 2020 without a valid tax permit.[35] In June, the Tax Commission initiated a lawsuit against the park in the Garvin County District Court, claiming that Lowe owed $50,274 in delinquent sales tax from prior years.[36] In September after the park's permanent closure, Lowe settled the case, agreeing to pay up to $113,653 in restitution.[37]


The 2020 Netflix original documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness was centered on Joe Exotic.[38][39] 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.[40] The park reopened the first weekend in May after the restrictions were relaxed.[17]

Later in 2020, after hearing the rumors of paranormal activity at the park in the Netflix documentary, the crew of Ghost Adventures investigated here for their Halloween special.[41][42]

In the documentary Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic, released in April 2021, documentarian Louis Theroux is given a tour of the vacant and heavily vandalized park by Carole Baskin and her husband Howard Baskin.[43]


  1. ^ a b c Moor, Robert (September 3, 2019). "American Animals Joe Exotic bred lions, tigers, and ligers at his roadside zoo. He was a modern Barnum who found an equally extraordinary nemesis". New York. Intelligencer. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  2. ^ Gajanan, Mahita (March 20, 2020). "The Wild Story Behind Netflix's New Docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness".
  6. ^ "BIG CAT RESCUE CORP. (2003)".
  7. ^ a b "'Joe Exotic' ordered to pay Florida animal sanctuary $1 million". March 2, 2013. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  8. ^ Williams, Sean (June 22, 2019). "Joe Exotic Built a Wild Animal Kingdom. He Was the Most Dangerous Predator of Them All".
  9. ^ a b c d Clay, Nolan (April 3, 2019). "Joe Exotic found guilty in murder-for-hire case". The Oklahoman. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  10. ^ a b "'Joe Exotic' sentenced to 22 years in federal prison on murder-for-hire, wildlife charges". ABC Koco News 5. January 22, 2020. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
  11. ^ Garcia, Sandra E. (January 22, 2020). "Former Zookeeper Sentenced to 22 Years in Murder-for-Hire Plot". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  12. ^ "Big Cat Rescue Corp. v. Big Cat Rescue Entertainment Group, Inc.; No. 8:12-CV-02381... | 20130520856| Consent Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction". Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  13. ^ "Big Cat Rescue Corp v. GW Exotic Memorial Animal Foundation; Memorandum Opinion and Order". Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  14. ^ "Rendering Licenses" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 21, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  15. ^ Lurye, Rebecca (April 30, 2015). "Beaufort big cat owner has fraud conviction on his record".
  16. ^ a b c "Jeff Lowe's Zoo Suspension Due to Poor Veterinary Care Allegations". TMZ. Retrieved April 15, 2021.
  17. ^ a b Todisco, Eric (May 6, 2020). "Tiger King Fans Flock to Joe Exotic's Zoo for its Reopening After Coronavirus Shutdown". People.
  18. ^ "corpInformation".
  19. ^ a b Cluiss, Caroline (October 8, 2020). "Carole Baskin takes over Tiger King Zoo". KXII. Sherman, Texas. Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  20. ^ Ushe, Naledi (August 19, 2020). "'Tiger King' zoo officially closes its doors following Jeff Lowe's license suspension". FOXBusiness. Retrieved April 15, 2021.
  21. ^ "Carole Baskin's Zoo Once Owned By Joe Exotic Vandalized with Graffiti, Trash". TMZ. Retrieved April 15, 2021.
  22. ^ Hill, Janice (November 25, 2020). "Tiger King zoo vandalized with graffiti, rotting meat | Latest News & Headlines". Retrieved April 15, 2021.
  23. ^ Clay, Nolan (May 23, 2021). "Federal authorities raid Tiger King Park in Thackerville , seize remaining big cats". The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City. Retrieved August 26, 2022.
  24. ^ "G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park Investigator's Log—Neglect". People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
  25. ^ "Oklahoma Pseudo-Sanctuary: Shelter From Danger or Dangerous Shelter?". People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  26. ^ Surette, Rusty (January 11, 2011). "PETA Allegedly Paid Man To 'Spy, Download Information' From Exotic Animal Park". Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  27. ^ Armen Keteyian (May 16, 2012). "Alleged abuse at GW Memorial Park seen on tape". CBS News. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  28. ^ "'If they walk in here and take my animals away, it's going to be a small Waco':Joe Exotics pledge after being accused". Humane Society of the United States. May 16, 2012. Archived from the original on August 19, 2014. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  29. ^ "Reckless Tiger Cub Petting Zoo: The Humane Society of the United States Investigates GW Exotic Animal Park" (PDF) (PDF). Humane Society of the United States. May 22, 2012. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  30. ^ "G.W. Interactive Zoological Park under fire for alleged animal mistreatment". May 22, 2014. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  31. ^ Keeping, Juliana (October 7, 2017). "Shooting death at Wynnewood zoo under investigation". The Oklahoman. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  32. ^ "Sheriff: Oklahoma zookeeper's husband accidentally shot self". Associated Press. KXII News 12. October 10, 2017. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  33. ^ Clay, Nolan; Wallace, Josh (September 7, 2018). "Joe Exotic, former Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate, indicted, accused in murder-for-hire plot". The Oklahoman. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  34. ^ a b "Joe Exotic" Convicted of Murder-for-Hire and Violating Both the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act, United States Department of Justice (April 2, 2019).
  35. ^ a b Porterfield, Barry (August 5, 2020). "Outrage turns to zoo's real story". Pauls Valley, Oklahoma: Pauls Valley Democrat. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  36. ^ Clay, Nolan (August 24, 2020). "'Tiger King' star Joe Exotic takes feud with former business partner Jeff Lowe to court again". USA Today. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  37. ^ Clay, Nolan (September 28, 2020). ""Tiger King" star settles tax case". Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: The Oklahoman. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  38. ^ "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness". Netflix. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  39. ^ Miller, Julie (March 10, 2020). "Netflix's Wild Tiger King Is Your Next True Crime TV Obsession". Vanity Fair. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  40. ^ Yuhas, Alan and Cramer, Maria (April 2, 2020). "What Happened After 'Tiger King'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  41. ^ Seemayer, Zach (October 29, 2020). "'Ghost Adventures' Star Zak Bagans on Uncovering the Horror at 'Tiger King' Joe Exotic's Zoo (Exclusive)". Entertainment Tonight. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  42. ^ "Ghost Adventures - Season 0, Episode 97 - Horror at Joe Exotic Zoo". Travel Channel. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  43. ^ McMahon, James (April 6, 2021). "Four key takeaways from 'Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic'". NME. Retrieved April 12, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

External links[edit]