Erik Cowie, a zookeeper who featured on the hugely popular Netflix docu-series Tiger King, has died aged 52.
This is what you need to know.
Who is Erik Cowie?
Cowie was credited as a head zookeeper at Joe Exotic’s GW Zoo, and featured heavily in the Netflix series Tiger King which exploded in popularity last year.
During an episode of Tiger King, Cowie explained that he came to work at GW Zoo because he was “king of at the end of [his] rope”.
While Cowie had barely any experience working with large animals, he quickly forged a connection with the tigers.
He worked at the zoo for five years.
Cowie was reportedly found by an acquaintance on Friday (3 September) at 5:30pm local time in the bedroom of a Brooklyn apartment building. His cause of death is currently unknown.
TMZ, which first reported the news, said that a bottle of vodka was found at the scene, but there was no drugs.
Sources told TMZ that at this point there is nothing suspicious about Cowie’s death, but a toxicology test will likely still be carried out.
According to TMZ, Cowie had faced a drink driving charge in Oklahoma earlier this year, but failed to turn up for his sentencing hearing.
The New York Police Department told Entertainment Weekly: “On September 3, 2021 at 1730 hours, police responded to a 911 call of an unconscious male inside of 21 East 55 Street in the confines of the 67 Pct.
“Upon arrival, police discovered a 52-year-old male unconscious in the bedroom of the location. EMS was on scene and pronounced the male deceased. The Medical Examiner will determine the cause of death.”
What did Cowie say about Joe Exotic?
During Exotic’s 2019 trial, Cowie testified against his former boss, alleging that Exotic had shot five tigers in order to make space for new tigers.
While Cowie only heard the shots, he said: “I knew what was going on.”
In The Tiger King and I, the special episode hosted by Joel McHale where he interviewed people from the series, Cowie expressed his regrets for working with the eccentric animal trader.
He claimed to feel guilty after he was instructed to put down animals in the zoo for no good reason.
Cowie said: “It’s been in the back of my head. I think about it a lot - a lot of times when we put cats down, they used me because just my appearance or my voice [meant] I could get a cat up the side of the cage where we can dart it and tranquilise it.
“Those cats trusted me up until the end. Sometimes, I swear they’re like, ‘Dude, you let me down’.”
After being asked by McHale whether he thinks Exotic should be released from prison, Cowie said: “No. No not, but f**k no.
“Twenty-two years doing federal time - that guy’s gonna die in there. Good riddance.”
What has Joe Exotic said about his death?
On Instagram, Exotic responded to Cowie’s passing, writing: “I did everything I could to help him and save him from himself and he turned on me for fame. And money. There are a couple others headed down the same path.
“RIP Erik. I will be making a donation in his name to a drug and alcohol treatment center.”
Responding to the comment Cowie made about Exotic dying in prison and how that would be “good riddance”, Exotic wrote: “Everyone should soul search what you say to and about people.
“This was a very strong statement put in the press. God watches all. Erik had a horrible disease of alcohol. I put him through rehab and still gave him a job and a home, but it still didn't help.
“He is at peace. I hope him and Travis are four wheeling in heaven. Let's hope this ends before others are lost.”
On Facebook, the now-disbanded Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park wrote: “It comes with great sadness to say that a dear friend and hard working employee has passed away.
“Erik Cowie dedicated every waking moment caring for the animals at GWEAP & Tiger King Park. After the animals were ripped away by the Department of Justice, he sadly couldn’t take it anymore.
“He absolutely loved all the animals and would show up early to check on each and everyone. He had his Demons but the animals helped bring joy and happiness in his life.”
Where is Joe Exotic now?
Exotic is currently serving a 22-year sentence for planning to kill longtime rival Carole Baskin, as well as other wildlife violations.
Baskin, the owner of an animal sanctuary in Florida, had campaigned for the closure of Exotic’s zoo, and accused him of abusing his animals. Exotic was said to have tried to pay a hitman $3,000 to kill Baskin.
Exotic is serving his time at a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas. His animal park was awarded to Baskin last year as part of a settlement in a lawsuit against him.
She sold the land under the caveat that it could not be used as a zoo for at least a century.