OAKLAND, Calif. – Two neglected tigers rescued from a long-shuttered roadside tourist attraction in Oklahoma are beginning new lives more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away at California’s Oakland Zoo after receiving much-needed medical treatment.
The female tigers, now named Lola and Mia, were rescued in June from an Oklahoma attraction that was closed in 2008 by the U.S. 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 on Thursday at the Oakland Zoo.
Mia had been declawed as a cub, a painful process that removes part of the animal’s paws and it is believed the big cat was used for taking pictures with tourists.
A concerned citizen alerted the Oakland Zoo that there were underfed big cats still living in small cages at the Oklahoma drive-thru zoo that were not receiving proper care. The Oakland Zoo did not disclose the name of the roadside attraction business because it said doing so could 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 feces and dirty water dishes, said Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, at the Oakland Zoo.
“These are just atrocious conditions for an animal to live in and receive no medical care,” she said. “We’re very happy to be able to provide them with a forever home and a good quality of life.”
The animals are now receiving medical care and regaining their strength before they move to Oakland Zoo’s newly remodeled tiger exhibit, which had been empty since their previous rescued tiger passed away last year.
“It will be very heartwarming to see them be able to walk out on grass for probably the first time ever. Tigers love water. The moment they get to jump into the pool, I think there’s going to be so many times when we really will be so happy about this work that we’re doing,” Kinzley said.
The owner of the Oklahoma attraction was known to trade tigers with Joe Exotic from the Netflix series “Tiger King,” according to the Oakland Zoo. But since there were no records of the big cats’ history, it’s not known if either were bred or raised by Joe Exotic.
Joe Exotic — whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage — is serving a 21-year prison sentence after being convicted 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 on his murder-for-hire conviction, a judge this year lowered his sentence to 21 years.
The Oakland Zoo says the treatment the tigers need points to the need to pass the federal Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would regulate the possession, exhibition, or breeding of the animals and restrict direct contact between the public and the big cats.
The bill has stalled since being 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.