Conviction for ‘Joe Exotic’—but Are the Feds Guilty, Too?

For Immediate Release:
January 7, 2020

David Perle 202-483-7382

Norfolk, Va. – Notorious tiger dealer and exhibitor “Joe Exotic” was convicted on charges of murder for hire, killing tigers, and more and is set to be sentenced for those crimes on January 22—but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which allowed him to abuse tigers for nearly two decades, has yet to be held accountable for its complicity in his illegal activity.

The USDA, which is tasked with enforcing the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), issued Joe an animal exhibitor license shortly after he led a botched “rescue” operation in 1999 that caused numerous deaths and injuries. Almost immediately, the agency began citing him for violating the AWA by failing to provide basics such as adequate veterinary care and shelter—but year after year, it rubber-stamped his license-renewal applications even though facilities are required by law to demonstrate compliance with the AWA for licensure.

In 2006, the USDA fined Joe $25,000 and temporarily suspended his license, and he agreed that if he violated the AWA during the following 18 months, his license would be revoked. Soon thereafter, the agency cited him again—and PETA handed over eyewitness evidence that animals at his facility were left without food for days, routinely punched and kicked, allowed to escape repeatedly, denied veterinary care for excruciatingly painful injuries, and outright killed. The USDA had a duty to revoke Joe’s license, but it failed to do so. Instead, the agency kept right on renewing it.

In 2010, PETA submitted a complaint about the deaths of 23 tiger cubs over seven months, and the USDA opened an investigation that appears to remain open to this day, more than nine years later. At last check, the agency had four open investigations into Joe but has taken no action against him since the 2006 agreement that he simply disregarded. Meanwhile, the USDA’s overall enforcement of the AWA has declined sharply across the board.

“The USDA utterly failed in its duty to shut down Joe Exotic’s business over a decade ago, and he went on to kill tigers with a shotgun and plot to murder an animal sanctuary operator who was opposing his exploitation of animals,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet. “Joe Exotic is just one of the many scofflaw animal exhibitors whose cruelty is going unchecked across the U.S., and PETA is calling on Congress to step in and demand that the USDA do its job and stop these animal abusers’ illegal conduct before they go on to do worse.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. More information about Joe Exotic is available here.

For Media: Contact PETA's
Media Response Team.


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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind