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J Steele

3:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m

What a time to be alive. What started out is what I thought was a joke turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

Of course by now we’ve all seen Tiger King, the Netflix documentary that shook the world during a time of quarantine. We know Joe Exotic’s “G.W. Zoo” in Oklahoma still exists and even though he’s in jail, it is very much so still in business. The zoo that once belonged to Joe Exotic now belongs to Jeff and Lauren Lowe who are also featured in the doc and who Joe Exotic fans think “stole the zoo.” If you’re a Joe Exotic fan, you have nothing but horrible things to say about the Lowes but upon reading this, you may think differently.

The Beginning

I decided to reach out to the G.W. Zoo (also known as the Tiger King Park) to ask if they would be willing to do an interview with me if I made the trip to Wynewood, OK. I was given an email address to reach out to the owners and I never got a response. I continued to talk to Alexis, who answers the main phone line and she told me if I booked a tour to the zoo that she would be sure to ask the owners to meet me. It was a hell of a chance. Should I really drive 15 hours just to get told “Nah, we’re good on an interview.”? I said yes. See, Oklahoma is also a state that has reopened for the most part and business is back to normal from the covid-19 pandemic. Restaurants are open, malls are open, beauty parlors and more. I thought if nothing else, at least I could enjoy some chips and queso at a nice restaurant and get to go shopping. I decided to make the trip. I brought along my girlfriend, Kaitlyn, her friend Jacey and my daughter, Selena.

The Experience

The night before the tour I finally got a response to an IG message that I had sent the zoo about getting an interview with the owners if I made the trip. I was told my tour guide was going to be Erik Cowie and not the Lowes. Ugh. Erik is also in the documentary as the head zookeeper who testified against Joe at his trial. He is still employed there and still is the head zookeeper. Not gonna lie, while it’d be nice to meet Erik, I wanted the Lowes. At this point, I had already paid for the tour so I was going regardless.

I arrived at the park and I was told that my tour would be happening in about 30 minutes. I waited around… and waited…. and waited. Nothing. Meanwhile, I’m seeing Erik feed the animals all over the zoo. Does this guy know he has a tour? I got an update from the person at the front desk telling me that my tour had been rescheduled and Lauren Lowe would actually be the one to do the tour. PERFECT! We waited for Lauren and the tour began. She was very nice, but also spoke very quietly and I think that was because others who paid for general admission were exploring the zoo and often tried to eavesdrop in our conversation. As promised on the website, we got to meet many animals and that includes holding, feeding and petting. Here’s my daughter holding a sloth!

Lauren was in a rush and I could tell did not want any part in an interview. While doing the tour, we were stopped by people asking for pictures and it began to overwhelm her. I decided to start asking questions. “Is that normal for you? Can you even go to the grocery store anymore?” She replied with, “This happens all the time. No, I decided to leave to get diapers the other day and people were hiding behind things just to try to sneak pictures.” Her and Jeff are indeed local celebrities. We continued on the tour and of course, I was determined to get more answers. “Has business been booming since the documentary or has it always been busy?” She confirmed that the Netflix documentary definitely has made things busier. One thing that was very common with her and the other employees at the zoo is that they all have a common hatred for two people. Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. Throughout the tour, shade was thrown! Jacey who went on the tour with us asked how it was possible for the tigers to eat all of that raw chicken and not get sick. Lauren replied, “Well, their stomachs can break down the acid. How do you think they were able to eat Don Lewis?” HA!!!!! Don Lewis of course is Carole’s former husband that she is accused of killing and possibly feeding to the tigers. That wasn’t all. Erik Cowie who was originally supposed to be our tour guide was feeding the animals when we walked by and he was caught saying “Fu** Joe! He is where he belongs. He sold off some of my favorite animals.” He also walked by us at the end of the tour and said that someone asked him to take a selfie, but the person was wearing a Joe Exotic shirt. He said, “NOPE!”

At the end of the tour after meeting many other animals including baby tigers who we interacted with, Lauren thanked us for coming and we were off, but of course not without getting a picture. I really wanted to meet the nanny, not gonna lie. I’ve seen pics, she’s a smoker and would have made things a lot interesting!

Jeff and Lauren both were extremely nice, willing to do photos, willing to talk off camera and very respectful. Lauren also spent most of the tour actually giving us facts about the animals and the zoo and less talking about Tiger King but answered any Tiger King questions and made references to the doc. Overall, the trip was 100% worth it. I’d have loved to get an actual sit down interview with them but I got most of my questions answered INCLUDING what the future plans were. They are opening a new zoo in Summer 2020 and plan to close down the old Tiger King Park completely. The new zoo is expected to be a lot bigger, much nicer and more room for the animals. If you are thinking about touring the zoo before it closes, beware that it is $195 per adult and $125 per child! You have no control over who is your tour guide and they very well may not be willing to answer any questions. They knew I was on the radio and Jeff also has ties to Michigan with originally being from Lansing.

Another person who we ran into who also happened to be extremely cool was Allen Glover, the hitman! The guy who Joe supposedly paid to go kill Carole Baskin in Florida. He looked mean, he seems mean but he was actually a nice guy!

What’s Next?

This experience made me want to tour all of the facilities discussed in the documentary. I have reached out to both Carole Baskin’s sanctuary in Florida and Doc Antle’s safari in Myrtle Beach. I got responses from both! Carole’s people have told me that they have closed the sanctuary off to the public for the foreseeable future but encouraged me to read her story and her side of the documentary. Been there done that. I actually think she closed it due to the backlash and husband-killing rumors. Doc Antle however personally reached back out to me encouraging me to visit and saying that he would actually try to make some time for an interview. Well okay Doc!!! I’ll be on my way. I am planning a trip to Myrtle Beach Memorial Day Weekend to see about meeting up with Doc and getting that experience.

Stay tuned all you cool cats and kittens!

Interim Program Director - 105.1 The Bounce and 105.9 KISS FM Afternoons - 105.1 The Bounce