‘Tiger King’ Star Jeff Lowe and PETA Spark Legal Battle Over Halloween Costume

Joe Exotic Costume Tiger- Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy of PETA

Tiger King star Jeff Lowe is facing off with PETA over a Halloween costume being sold by the animal rights group.

Lowe — who took control of Joe Exotic's Greater Wynnewood Animal Park in Oklahoma and the Tiger King brand before its controversial founder, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, ended up behind bars — sent a cease and desist July 21 through his legal team to PETA over the retail sale of its “Joe Exotic Tiger Killer Costume.” The costume, retailing for $159.99, includes a blond mullet wig and mustache, a “plush pouncing tiger,” a set of jail bars and an orange jumpsuit with the “King” in “Tiger King” replaced with “Killer.”

In the letter, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Lowe’s attorney James D. Sullivan states that the costume utilizes “unauthorized proprietary rights to the ‘Joe Exotic’ and ‘Tiger King’ names,” which are owned by Lowe. The letter charges: "PETA’s unauthorized use has damaged and adversely impacted by client’s proprietary interests."

A day later, PETA responded through its attorney, Jeffrey S. Kerr, by rejecting the letter as "absurd."

"PETA’s ‘Joe Exotic Tiger Killer’ costume is an obvious parody protected under trademark law and constitutes fair comment and reporting under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Kerr wrote in his response, adding that any litigation will be vigorously defended. "We suggest Mr. Lowe focus instead on his serious legal problems in Nevada, Oklahoma and elsewhere, including the numerous recent federal Animal Welfare Act violations perpetrated against endangered big cats at his greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park."

Violations referred to by PETA in its statement include recent claims by the United States Department of Agriculture that Lowe’s facility is not properly caring for animals on site, including failure to provide proper veterinary care. The dispute over the Halloween costume is not the first entanglement between PETA and Lowe. Long before the docuseries premiere, in the spring of 2018, PETA filed a request with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to terminate or deny the renewal of Lowe’s Animal Welfare Act license.

As for Lowe, he is moving forward with plans to open a new animal zoo, Tiger King Park, in Thackerville, Oklahoma, not far from the WinStar World Casino and Resort. The facility is still on track to open later this year, per sources close to Lowe who say he is expected to file a rebuttal to PETA's most recent letter. 

Despite the current back-and-forth, another looming question remains: Will Halloween festivities happen at all? Large scale gatherings are still discouraged in many major cities, including Los Angeles, as the country continues to grapple with COVID-19 mitigation. Universal Studios last week announced it would be holding its annual Halloween Horror Nights events this year.

One major event is still on the calendar: the Emmy Awards. Nominations were announced Tuesday and Tiger King scored six nods including in the top category of Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series. The Primetime and Creative Arts ceremonies are scheduled for September