On March 20, Netflix released the true crime docuseries “Tiger King,” and one thing is for sure, it’s not about tigers. The seven-part documentary went viral immediately, with 64 million views within the first four weeks of its release, making it one of Netflix’s most popular shows ever. Between murder mysteries, political schemes, and of course, the infamous feud between animal advocate Carole Baskin and zookeeper/breeder Joe Exotic, its no wonder that viewers just can’t get enough of this jampacked series.
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” is currently serving a 22-year sentence in the Grady County Jail in Oklahoma after being convicted of murder-for-hire and animal abuse, including killing five tigers. The self-proclaimed “tiger king” was the former owner of the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma, one of the largest breeding operations in the country for tigers, lions, and bears. The series, filmed over the five years leading up to his arrest, follows not only his life as a breeder and zookeeper, but also delves into his personal life, including his several marriages, musical career, and presidential candidacy in the 2016 election.
In 2017, Exotic paid $3,000 for one of his employees to go to Florida and murder animal-rights activist and founder of the Big Cat Rescue Carole Baskin. While the plot was unsuccessful, Exotic was still caught and convicted. Baskin and Exotic had a long history after Baskin tried repeatedly to shut down Exotic’s operation, starting in 2012. Baskin herself was not left unscathed by the docuseries, which had a whole episode dedicated to a scandal implicating Baskin as a suspect in her husband’s murder.
The show was definitely intriguing and exciting TV, but was not quite the “Black Fish”-esque animal cruelty-focused documentary that some fans were expecting. In midst of the chaotic and bizarre personal lives of main characters Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, Bhavagan “Doc” Antle, and Jeff Lowe, the extremity of the animal abuse that big cat breeders perpetuate is somewhat lost. It is easy to get caught up in Joe Exotic’s TV persona and musically professed love of animals and forget that he kept his big cats in tiny, dirty cages, bred them illegally for cub-petting, where they were placed in traumatic situations immediately after birth, fed them expired Walmart meat and shot them when he needed more space. However, hopefully this series will interest viewers in conservation efforts and encourage them to stand up against animal abusers like Exotic.