OAKLAND, Calif. — Two neglected tigers rescued from a long-closed roadside tourist attraction in Oklahoma are starting a new life more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away at the Oakland Zoo in California after receiving much-needed medical treatment.
The female tigers, now named Lola and Mia, were rescued in June from an Oklahoma attraction closed in 2008 by the US Department of Agriculture for multiple animal safety and welfare violations.
Lola had a facial deformity caused by an untreated infected tooth and underwent dental surgery Thursday at the Oakland Zoo.
Mia had been declawed as a lion cub, a painful process that removes part of the animal’s paws and it is believed the big cat was used to take pictures with tourists.
A concerned citizen has alerted the Oakland Zoo that there are still undernourished big cats living in small cages at the Oklahoma drive-thru zoo that are not receiving proper care. The Oakland Zoo did not release the name of the roadside amusement company, as it said it may reveal the name of the tipster.
The tigers were kept in enclosures that were probably about 10 feet (3 meters) by about 15 feet (4.5 meters) and lived among piles of droppings and dishes of dirty water, said Colleen Kinzley, director of animal care, conservation and research, at the Oakland Zoo.
“These are just excruciating conditions for an animal to live without receiving medical attention,” she said. “We are very happy to be able to offer them a permanent home and a good quality of life.
The animals are now receiving medical attention and regaining their strength before moving to the newly renovated tiger exhibit at the Oakland Zoo, which had been empty since the death of their previous rescued tiger last year.
“It will be very heartwarming to see them being able to walk on grass for the very first time. Tigers love water. By the time they can jump in the pool, I think there will be so many times when we will be really so happy with this work that we are doing,” Kinzley said.
The Oklahoma attraction owner was known to trade tigers with Joe Exotic from the Netflix series “Tiger King,” according to the Oakland Zoo. But since there was no record of the big cats’ history, it’s unclear whether either was bred or bred by Joe Exotic.
Joe Exotic – real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage – is serving a 21-year prison sentence after being found guilty of hiring two different men to kill animal welfare activist Carole Baskin.
The former private zookeeper was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in prison but after an appeal against his murder-for-hire conviction, a judge this year reduced his sentence to 21 years.
The Oakland Zoo says the treatment the tigers need underscores the need to pass the federal big cat public safety law, which would regulate the possession, display or breeding of the animals and restrict direct contact between the public and the big cats.
The bill has stalled since it was introduced in the House last year. Currently, the ownership and breeding of exotic animals is controlled by state laws.
California has strict laws protecting big cats, but other states like Oklahoma are more lenient.