Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary, Tyler, TX, is a nonprofit sanctuary with a purported mission to save tigers, but Tiger Creek has numerous ties to the players made famous in the Netflix series "Tiger King."
Joe Exotic, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park
Tiger Creek owner Brian Werner Ferris was affiliated with Joe Exotic and visited Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (GWEAP), the troubled roadside zoo featured in the series. Werner Ferris reportedly took sanctuary employees to GWEAP to participate in cub petting.
GWEAP has since closed and Exotic is serving time in prison on charges alleging he violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Lacey Act and on murder-for-hire charges for attempting to hire a hit man to kill Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue, Tampa, FL.
Carole Baskin, Big Cat Rescue
Exotic had a particular disdain for Baskin; a disdain Werner Ferris apparently shares.
In messages sent to a Roadside Zoo News follower, Werner Ferris brought up Baskin and Big Cat Rescue numerous times.
"Any word about where Don Lewis’ body is?" Werner Ferris questioned, referring to unsubstantiated claims that Baskin played a role in her former husband’s disappearance. "Have you asked about the missing dead husband?"
Werner Ferris is one of the characters featured on Baskin’s 911 Animal Abuse website. On her site, Baskin said in the past, Werner Ferris used a paid mail house to raise funds for Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary. She said those companies often charge as much as 90% for their services.
"But they are really good at making up stories that will get donors to part with their money," she said.
Baskin said Werner Ferris' attitude at the time "was that he didn’t care how much ended up in the pockets of the fundraising company as long as they made it easy for him to run his operation."
Jeff Lowe, Tiger King Park
Tiger King player Jeff Lowe took over GWEAP shortly before Exotic was locked up. Lowe also did business with Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary, in 2018 sending a black leopard named Tigger from Wynnewood, OK, to the Texas nonprofit. At Tiger Creek, Tigger was renamed Bagheera. He has since passed away.
In a lawsuit, Lowe lost the Wynnewood location of GWEAP to Baskin. He renamed his roadside zoo “Tiger King Park” and moved it to Thackerville, OK, where he faced mounting pressure over the care of his animals.
Lowe is facing a lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice that alleges he mistreated the ESA protected animals at his roadside zoo. All of the lions, tigers and hybrid big cats were removed from his property in late May and his U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) license to exhibit the animals has been permanently revoked.
Tim Stark, Wildlife in Need
Tim Stark of Wildlife in Need, Charlestown, IN, was another character featured in Tiger King. His roadside zoo has since been shut down and all of the animals were removed. He’s been permanently banned from owning or exhibiting exotic animals again. Stark is also affiliated with Tiger Creek and Werner Ferris.
"In all reality, Brian has always been a con artist," Stark said in a Facebook comment on a post about Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary. "He was a speaker at a Feline Conservation Federation convention years ago and that’s what he was talking about, was how to scam money from potential supporters."
Doc Antle, Myrtle Beach Safari
Kevin 'Doc' Antle, owner of Myrtle Beach Safari and another player featured in Tiger King, was on the Board of Directors for Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary in 2008.
On several occasions, Werner Ferris reportedly used nonprofit sanctuary funds to pay for his staff and family to visit Myrtle Beach Safari and swim with Bubbles the elephant.
Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary has received 12 tigers from Antle. Two of those tigers have since passed away, but nearly 60% of the tigers that currently reside at Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary were originally bred by Antle and then sent to Tiger Creek.
Antle is currently facing nine charges of cruelty to animals, six counts of selling endangered species and two wildlife trafficking charges. He’s also facing a lawsuit for a monkey that escaped his roadside zoo and bit a woman.
'Tiger King hysteria'
In April 2021, Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary was cited with two non-critical USDA Animal Welfare Act violations and one critical violation. The critical violation was for 11 animals that passed away without any documented veterinary care.
"All 11 of the deceased animals showed clinical signs for weeks, sometimes months, without being examined by a veterinarian," the USDA report said.
Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary’s manager Emily Owen told Tyler Paper the critical USDA violation was a result of missing documentation and disgruntled former employees. She blamed Tiger King for influencing former sanctuary employees to speak negatively about Tiger Creek.
"The ‘Tiger King’ hysteria played a big part in fueling a lot of these animal activist groups," Owen told Tyler Paper. "People that sit behind a keyboard and don’t really have any clue what actually goes into the health and care of these animals."
A former Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary employee said she thinks Tiger King has brought awareness to the plight of animals in captivity.
"It’s about time people start paying more attention to the facilities they choose to promote and support," she said. "If that means doing more research while sitting in front of a computer screen, then so be it."
Werner Ferris feigned ignorance.
"I’ve never even watched that king Tiger show," he said in a message.
The former Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary employee said the Netflix show isn’t the issue.
"We are talking about the lives of animals that did not choose this existence," she said. "People have every right to be more critical and ask the tough questions."