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“Tiger King” zookeeper Erik Cowie was found dead inside a Brooklyn apartment last week, authorities said.
The 53-year-old was discovered face down in the bedroom of the residence by a friend on Friday, police sources told TMZ. Investigators said they do not suspect foul play and that no drugs were found at the scene. However, a toxicology test will likely still be performed on the deceased animal trainer, according to TMZ. A police source told the New York Daily News that they suspect Cowie died of natural causes.
It is not clear whose home Cowie, the former head zookeeper for Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage's former zoo, was visiting. It is also unclear why Cowie, an Oklahoma native, was in New York at the time of his death.
Cowie skyrocketed to fame last year following the popularity of Netflix’s docuseries “Tiger King.” A second season of the smash-hit series is reportedly in the works.
In 2019, Cowie testified against Maldonado-Passage, stating that the man nicknamed Joe Exotic murdered adult tigers to make room for baby tigers, according to a 2019 report from Texas Monthly. Juvenile tigers can be sold for large sums across the country and revelers pay a pretty penny for photo-ops with the cubs.
"I knew what was going on. I'm [not] stupid," Cowie told KFOR during the trial. "I knew cats were getting shot."
Cowie expressed regret in “Tiger King” regarding the killings, noting that “those cats trusted me.”
Cowie’s testimony led to Maldonado-Passage conviction. Not only was Maldonado-Passage convicted on two counts on a murder-for-hire charge for plotting to kill big cat activist Carole Baskin, but he was also found guilty of eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act. He is currently serving 22 years behind bars.
Earlier this year, Cowie was arrested in his home state of Oklahoma on suspicion of DUI following a car crash. He pleaded guilty but failed to appear at his sentencing hearing, TMZ reported in May.
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