13 Investigates


HSUS claims undercover video shows 'Tiger King' animal cruelty

Video released to spotlight animals' plight
HSUS undercover photos at GW Zoo
HSUS undercover photos at GW Zoo
HSUS undercover photos at GW Zoo
HSUS undercover photos at GW Zoo
HSUS undercover photos at GW Zoo
Posted at 6:48 PM, Apr 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 21:57:27-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Undercover video taken inside Joe Exotic's compound sheds more light on the man millions met on the Netflix documentary "Tiger King."

The Humane Society knew him before he became a convicted animal abuser.

And now he's apparently asking for a presidential pardon.

13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears has been investigating big cat controversies here in Las Vegas.

Now she shows how the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is using the show's popularity to take a stand against animal abuse.

In the "Tiger King" series, the plight and fate of the animals themselves gets lost in the crazy cast of human characters.

But HSUS has been focused on the tigers for years.

In 2011, a HSUS investigator worked undercover for 100 days at Joe Exotic’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma.

"If he don’t want to walk, pop him in the (expletive) and make him walk," Joe Exotic says while pulling on a leashed tiger cub in the HSUS video.

The footage reveals Joe Exotic coaching zoo employees on how to handle the animals.

"They resort to these cruel measures of beating them, dragging them, just making them cower in fear," said HSUS's Nevada State Director Jeff Dixon.

All in an effort to keep them from behaving like the wild animals they are.

Darcy Spears: "Pretty much trying to train the tigers not to be tigers?"

Jeff Dixon: "They want to beat their instincts out of them."

John Reinke, who managed the GW Zoo, says in the HSUS video, "When that cat starts getting hard to handle and starts pulling on you, don’t even hesitate, just pull out! Just pull it out. Because then is not the time to beat the (expletive) out of that cat and make it listen. You can’t hit ‘em in the nose. You can’t smack 'em. You cannot reprimand a cat while the public’s around. That happens behind the scenes."

HSUS says "Tiger King" barely scratches the surface of the suffering the animals endure and what they call a “network of cruelty” involved in breeding and then selling the exotic cats once they’re too old to be photo cubs.

Darcy Spears: "There’s a place for all of those animals in captivity in the United States?"

Jeff Dixon: "No, there’s not nearly enough sanctuary space. In the best case scenario they can end up in a sanctuary, worst case they end up in a zoo or in private ownership or dead."

And they don’t always make it to adulthood.

In the undercover video, Reinke is talking with the HSUS investigator about burying a baby tiger, "The one with the bad head," he says, explaining that it may have been stepped on by a dog, another tiger or something else. He says that kind of thing is just "part of it."

HSUS calls the animals victims, saying people’s interests are almost always at odds with the animals' well-being.

"Their welfare comes second to their entertainment value," Dixon says.

He cites the example of Joe Exotic in the video saying, "We need to make him get along with that frickin’ liger! So we need to just put them in there and let them beat the (expletive) out of each other."

As 13 Investigates first reported in 2018, some of the GW Zoo cubs were brought to Las Vegas by Jeff Lowe.

Lowe used them for pricey photo ops in private Las Vegas homes he rented, as well as high roller suites at strip casinos and on his Jungle Bus—where he picked people up on the strip and ferried them to a "top secret hideout" to play with the animals... That is until City of Las Vegas Animal Control shut Lowe’s illegal operations down and seized his animals.

Tiger "Spunky," Liliger "Paisley" and "Clutch" the lemur are living out their lives at a Pahrump sanctuary while HSUS works on changing laws.

We have been trying to get the Nevada state legislature for several sessions now to get some of the most basic protections for these animals and on a bi-partisan basis they have failed to do so," said Dixon.

At the federal level, they’re working to pass the Big Cat Safety Act. They hope those efforts and the re-release of their video highlights the need to better protect big cats from people like Joe Exotic, Jeff Lowe and others featured in "Tiger King."

Joe Exotic is now serving 22 years behind bars on a murder-for-hire plot involving a rival and on animal abuse charges.

From prison, he recently filed a federal lawsuit against government officials and Jeff Lowe, who he accuses of “filing false statements to federal agents as part of an entrapment scheme to steal his tigers and take his zoo.”

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