Yes, Joe Exotic’s Zoo Is Still Open—But It’s A Little Different Now

Yes, Joe Exotic’s Zoo Is Still Open—But It’s A Little Different Now

From Women's Health

Netflix's latest docuseries Tiger King is based on the real life of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who goes by the name of "Joe Exotic." The true crime docuseries delves into Joe Exotic's rise and fall, and much of it goes down right in the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (also referred to as the G.W. Zoo in Tiger King) in Oklahoma.

With Joe Exotic currently serving a 22-year sentence for two counts of murder-for-hire, falsifying wildlife records, and nine violations of the Endangered Species Act including killing five of his own tigers, per the U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Oklahoma, new owners Jeff Lowe and Lauren Lowe (a husband and wife team) reopened the park in mid 2018.

Joe Exotic's zoo is temporarily closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

While the zoo had been busier than ever following the Tiger King premiere, it just closed on March 29. The current owner, Jeff Lowe, shared a zoo update on Facebook:

"After two of the busiest days this park has ever seen, we are going to step back tomorrow and confirm with the Governor that we are operating within the guidelines of the Covid19 requirements. We will not open at 9:00 tomorrow morning."

The update continued: "We are a licensed agricultural entity, but the crowds have been huge since the Netflix show and we have difficulty in controlling that much traffic at one time. At one point today we had cars lined up 1/2 mile down the road. We want to accommodate everyone, it just might not be possible to do safely."

The park has remained closed since then, and "We will keep everyone updated when we can allow our doors open back up to the public," per the zoo's latest Instagram post.

Joe Exotic is behind bars, so his zoo has a new owner.

Jeff Lowe is now running the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. He knew Joe Exotic as far back as 2015, when he came by the park to purchase a tiger cub, a tiger, and a lion hybrid, according to Texas Monthly. After getting to know each other a bit, Lowe offered to put the zoo in his name and Joe accepted, in an attempt to protect the park from being owned by his rival, Carole Baskin, should anything happen to him.

After Joe was sentenced to prison for attempting to pay a hitman (who turned out to be an FBI agent) to kill Carole, Jeff and Lauren Lowe took over full ownership of the park, which now came with a tarnished reputation.

The couple brands themselves as the ones who brought Joe to justice, helping the U.S. government land him in prison. "Come see how healthy and happy all the animals are, now that the horrible abuser rots in Federal Prison," the company’s Facebook page shared.

Photo credit: The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park
Photo credit: The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park

However, multiple Yelp reviews that were written since the couple took over call the place abusive, citing small cages, strange smells, and lethargic animals, which are the same complaints Joe received while running the park.

The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park looks a lot different in 2020.

Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, the Tiger King filmmakers, shared a G.W. Zoo update with Entertainment Weekly. They revealed that it's not in the best of shape. "All I can tell you is that he [Jeff Lowe] is basically operating on fumes. No one is going now and there’s no source of income, and that's been going on for a long time," Goode told the publication. "It's not something that has just happened because of what's happening in the world today."

Jeff and Lauren plan to move the park to a completely new location near Thackerville, Oklahoma (by the Texas border) and have continued to work towards this goal since 2018, Oklahoma's News 4 reported. The new location is not open yet.

A purported employee's Instagram post makes it seem as though the new park will undergo a rebrand during the move and reopen as the Oklahoma Zoo.

The rebranded company's Instagram states the zoo plans to open in Summer 2020 and displays images of Jeff and Lauren with the animals. The Oklahoma Zoo Facebook page has shared multiple construction updates, as well.

The Oklahoma Zoo website also says that the new location will be in Thackerville, the same place the Lowes previously stated they were moving the park, making the rebrand even more likely.

Most of Joe Exotic's animals are still at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.

"It's anyone's guess as to what's going to happen to them," Goode told Entertainment Weekly. "Some will be placed, but I would suspect a lot of them will die from starvation, and probably be put down. And this is probably true for a lot of operations around the country right now that keep exotic animals, and even big zoos are struggling right now to keep their animals."

Some of the tigers were moved to a sanctuary in Colorado.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary based in Keenesburg, Colorado, took in 39 tigers and 3 bears from the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park according to executive director Pat Craig, 9 News reported.

“It was super overcrowded and running out of food,” Craig told the news station. He rescued some of the tigers in 2017 and also met Joe Exotic. The rescue operation required armed security guards, according to Craig.

Joe Exotic's persona has been stripped from the grounds.

Joe Exotic's face was once plastered on billboards and around nearly every inch of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. Today, there is no trace of him found anywhere near the premises, Texas Monthly reported, a far cry from the days where he handed out condoms with his face on them to visitors.

Lauren and Jeff Lowe look forward to leaving Joe’s name behind and bringing no mention of him to the new facility, Lauren Lowe told KOKO News 5 in Oklahoma City, but that has proven a tough feat. Locals know Joe's legacy and the couple's long-standing connection to him, and the new Netflix docuseries further enforces that knowledge.

Photo credit: Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park / Facebook
Photo credit: Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park / Facebook

What's it like to visit the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park today?

Visitors have shared varied opinions about their experiences at the park since Joe's departure. While many Yelp reviewers feel that the park has a bad aura about it from the rude workers, hidden fees, and strange rules, visitors disagree on the actual animal experience there. Some feel they experienced an amazing opportunity to visit with animals up close, while others say the animals live in cruelty.

Lana N. on Yelp shared, "If you enjoy seeing animals trapped in small enclosures in their own feces and urine, by all means, come here! If you don't support animal cruelty, well, don't make the same mistake that I did and take your money elsewhere... It's pretty evident that this place is mistreating animals."

Jason S. disagreed, saying "Had a pretty great time at the wild cat park. The tour was pretty informative and the lady definitely loved what she did. You get to feed a camel, pet wild wolves and baby tigers, and some more unique tidbits. Recommended!"

Despite the mixed reviews, the Lowes receive a lot of praise and support from comments on their Facebook page, calling them heroes and praising the park for getting a fresh start.

To learn more about Joe Exotic’s crazy downfall and the current state of the park, watch Tiger King on Netflix.

You Might Also Like