The controversial documentary called “Tiger King,” recently grabbing attention around the globe, may not have been the whole story about an animal park near Wynnewood.
That’s what a partner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park’s current ownership says about the series streaming on Netflix starting this past March.
Eric Yano of Las Vegas, Nevada calls himself a good friend and business partner of Jeff Lowe, who stepped into the role of owner and operator of the park after Joe Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, was sent to a federal prison in a murder-for-hire plot and several counts of animal abuse.
Yano says all the main characters of the series were portrayed as “villains,” which he stresses is simply not the case with Lowe.
“I’m sure everybody here has seen the Netflix series ‘Tiger King,’ Yano said during a recent presentation to a number of Pauls Valley Rotary members masked up because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The show did exaggerate a lot. It portrayed Jeff to be this questionable character. The series for TV was made to catch the attention of viewers.
“I’ve come here to give the actual, actual story. So many times people don’t hear the whole story.
“I’ve known Jeff for the last few years and know how he really is. Jeff is a really cool, calm person who’s extremely smart in business.”
According to Yano, the animals in the park have been treated the right way ever since Lowe stepped in after Exotic’s departure.
He also says the tax and legal issues related to the park come from the time when Exotic was managing the facility. Yano claims Lowe has “worked to clean much of that up.”
“The zoo is operated very different than it used to be,” he said. “The animals are constantly being take care of. The zoo is abiding by all the regulations.
“There’s not really a breeding program in place like there was with Joe. Jeff is aware that’s not something people are fans of.”
Also introduced in the documentary was Carol Baskin of Big Cat Rescue in Florida.
It’s Baskin who was the focus of a verbal and legal war with Exotic in the years leading up to his arrest and conviction.
In fact, Baskin is the person who Exotic is alleged to have targeted in a murder plot.
Yano says the news reports get it wrong when it comes to a judge’s decision favoring Baskin in a copyright infringement lawsuit with Exotic.
“What the news portrays is the zoo is being taken over by Carol. That’s not the case,” he said.
“She won judgment to the land – not the zoo. The judgment is only for the land where the zoo is located. The judgment was against Joe Exotic. Jeff slid into that disaster.”
That land ownership could also play a part in Lowe’s plans to soon open a new, larger animal facility in Thackerville.
“We expect the new zoo to open in a few short months,” Yano said, adding it will be more than twice the size of the one now in Wynnewood.
“There’s a lot more room for the animals. The current zoo is built a little more compact. Once the new zoo is open we’ll stay open in Wynnewood as long as possible.”
With the court judgment awarding the land to Baskin an open facility there would mean paying her monthly rent for use of the property, Yano said.
He adds Lowe is also thinking about things like a children’s learning center at the new zoo and even an online interactive feature.