“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness” has become increasingly popular since its debut on March 20. It’s a featured Netflix series that focuses on big cat breeding and the exploration of private zoos in the U.S.
The series’s main protagonist, Joe Exotic, is an eccentric former zoo operator of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park and convicted felon. He had claimed to be the most prolific breeder of tigers in the United States. Documentary filmmaker Rebecca Chaiklin and director Eric Goode follow Joe Exotic for five years to show the exploitation of big cats and overall animal mistreatment. The series takes a massive turn when Joe Exotic is sentenced to 22 years in federal prison. He allegedly plotted to have rival Carole Baskin, a Florida animal sanctuary founder and animal rights activist, murdered for $3,000 and for more than a dozen wildlife violations, including the killing of five tigers and illegally selling/transporting of big cats. An Oklahoma City jury found him guilty of trying to hire multiple hitmen to kill the activist, twice. The Florida animal sanctuary is in Tampa, owned by Carole Baskin and her husband, Howard Baskin.
Carole Baskin is the zoo operator of Big Cat Rescue to which she refers to as a “big cat sanctuary.” Baskin herself does not have a clean record compared to Joe Exotic, allegedly breeding tigers in her past. Also, some of her current enclosures being very small, nearly smaller than Joe Exotic’s cages. In the first episode of “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness,” Baskin’s introductory scene is her literally in front of a small enclosure that held a big cat drinking water out of a metal dish in a small cage to fit its head. This was right after she boasted that big cats deserve to be in huge enclosures and that her sanctuary doesn’t exploit the cats. On top of that, she says this multiple times throughout the documentary. This was proven untrue as the footage shown through the series makes her sanctuary look like a caged jungle with many smaller cages that barely fit the animals. She is also involved in a missing person case with her second late husband, Don Lewis, mysteriously disappearing in 1987, thus leaving the big cat sanctuary in her hands. His fortune was held in limbo for five years. The day after he was pronounced legally dead, Carole Baskin inherited his multimillion fortune. Due to the extreme amount of attention the documentary series has received, the unusual circumstances of Lewis’ disappearance have caused the Hillsborough County Police Department to take advantage of the show’s popularity and “reopen” a cold case for further tips and investigation. Furthering the development of the case, on April 6, the Investigation Discovery (I.D.) channel announced a sequel is in the works. The ID’s upcoming sequel, “Investigating the Strange World of Joe Exotic,” will dive deeper into the case of Carole Baskin’s missing husband.
A lot of viewers of the show, especially mainstream celebrities, have already formed an opinion on Baskin(whether she had a role in her late husband’s disappearance), and Joe Exotic(whether he should be released from prison or at least be dealt a shorter amount of time on his 22-year prison sentence). Rapper Cardi B tweeted to her 10.9 million followers that she thought Joe was “done dirty” by everyone who was associated with the docuseries. She went as far as saying she wanted to start a GoFundMe for Joe Exotic to raise money for his release from prison. Once people were trying to donate, the rapper soon backed out, saying that she was “playing” with everyone, but still does believe he should be free. It is a little extreme that she broadcasted this to her followers, especially without mentioning the main point of the documentary, which is the suffering of big cats. It was a missed opportunity where she could have used her platform to advocate to help end the captivity of dangerous animals as pets in private zoos.
Another roadside zoo or sanctuary is the Myrtle Beach Safari in South Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Current zoo operator, Mahamayavi Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, is the founder and director of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, a world-renowned 50-acre wildlife preserve. Doc Antle is by far the most reputable zoo operator with celebrities, working with stars like Britney Spears’ in her performance at MTV’s 2001 Video Music Awards. The pop singer danced with a snake in front of a tiger, which was owned by Doc. Other big names he has worked with include Beyoncé and Logan Paul, who have both been to the sanctuary. All of these celebrities have positive relations with the Myrtle Beach Safari, appearing on their social media as well. Now that the Netflix docuseries has come out, it has revealed that Doc Antle is no better than other roadside zoo operators because of his similar exploitation of cats. In the documentary, Doc Antle has said he’s lied about crossbreeding cats (crossbred lion and tiger called ligers) because of the stigma and states that he “pretends they’re all big cats.”
The celebrities that Doc has worked with have been silent after Tiger King aired, neither supporting nor opposing the zoo owners. The closest that I have been able to find is on a recent episode of Jimmy Fallon that aired on March 30. In the episode, Demi Lovato and Jimmy Fallon paint portraits of each other over Facetime. The two were discussing what they have been doing to keep busy during quarantine and the importance of taking care of your mental health. As a way to stay in contact with friends, Demi Lovato said that her manager sets up group zoom calls with celebrities like Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, and other stars where they meet other famous people. The meetings included people like politicians, an example being Bill Clinton, and other celebrities like Mark from “Love is Blind.” She even stated that they had someone from “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness” on one night. It is confusing as to why she would be excited about meeting anyone from the docuseries unless it was the directors or Rick Kirkham who had not partaken in the actual illegal activities. Hopefully, it was not someone who was the main character as most of the zoo owners are used as prime examples of animal abuse.
The most notable that worked with Joe Exotic was Shaquille O’Neal, who currently owns two white tigers that live in Florida and sponsors two cubs, a tiger, and a liger. He appeared in the documentary, posing with Joe Exotic and a tiger. However, he no longer has a relationship with the now felon.
“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness” is a wild show from beginning to end. If you’re looking to understand the world of private zoos and the right to own dangerous animals, I highly recommend watching this docuseries. It would definitely help if you formed your own opinions and researched before listening to what celebrities have to say, which might not be endorsing what’s ethically right.