'Tiger King': Everything You Need to Know About Netflix's Wild True Crime Series
Over a year after Netflix’s original documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened was released, the streaming platform returned with a true crime docuseries so wild that you’ll have to see it to believe it. Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness might just be the craziest tale of controversial exotic animal breeding, drug lords, murder, greed, and a nearly lethal feud between two eccentric animal lovers on opposing sides that you’ve ever seen or may ever see again. Read on to learn more about Tiger King.
*The following article may contain spoilers for Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.
The seven-part documentary series delves into the world of exotic cat rescues and the controversies surrounding breeding wild animals for entertainment purposes, and it all traces back to the vicious, infamous rivalry between a roadside zoo owner named Joe Exotic and a big cat rescue owner named Carole Baskin.
The official Netflix synopsis reads, “A zoo owner spirals out of control amid a cast of eccentric characters in this true murder-for-hire story from the underworld of big cat breeding.”
Born Joe Screibvogal in March 1963, the central character of Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, has gone by many names and identities from a myriad marriages and job industries, but through all of it, every path has led the so-called “Tiger King” back to the wild, particularly to the private ownership and breeding of exotic big cats thus earning him the name “Joe Exotic”.
Joe Exotic has been an animal lover since he learned how to walk. From growing up on a family farm in Kansas working with barnyard animals and becoming president of his local 4-H club to purchasing a pet store with his brother, Garold Wayne, Exotic’s life has almost always been centered around raising and caring for animals of all shapes and sizes.
When his brother passed away in a tragic car accident in the 1990s, Exotic used the settlement funds to purchase a horse ranch in Wynnewood, Oklahoma and open a big cat rescue, both in memory of his late brother and as a forever memorial to commemorate the brothers’ love for wildlife. Joe would often say he was broken and the baby animals he raised and cared for helped put him back together. At one point, Exotic’s zoo (named The Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park in memory of his late brother) housed 200 tigers. He would even keep baby lions, tigers, and ligers (a hybrid between a tiger and a lion) in his home on the property.
Caring for so many animals at one time proved to be an expense Exotic wasn’t prepared for, so once he realized the popularity of baby exotic cats, he started breeding them and charging guests to interact with the animals and take pictures. He would also take the young exotic cats on tours where he would charge people for petting the cats and photo ops.
However, all was not perfect in Joe Exotic’s exotic cat paradise.
Like Exotic, wild cat advocate and co-founder of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, Carole Baskin has also been an animal lover from the time she was a child rescuing stray cats from the streets of her hometown. Baskin’s main objective is shutting down roadside animal attractions and private zoos, like Exotic’s G.W. Zoo, and providing a sanctuary for abused, neglected, and unwanted wild cats until private ownership and roadside zoos are no longer a factor. “That’s our ultimate goal: to put ourselves out of business,” she explained once in an interview with Tampa Bay Times. Baskin is a huge advocate for the Big Cat Public Safety Act, a bill amending the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, making the domestic and foreign trade of exotic cats illegal along with banning ownership of wild cats altogether. The bill would also make it illegal to use baby animals as attractions for the public to interact with, with the exceptions of institutions like universities, sanctuaries, and institutionalized zoos.
Needless to say, Carole Baskin posed a huge threat to the life’s work of Joe Exotic, even going as far as to attack the private zoo owner directly.
Baskin’s attack on Joe Exotic’s practices began when she and her followers contacted several different malls and venues imploring them to stop hosting Joe Exotic and soon enough, hundreds of venues stopped accepting Exotic and his tiger cubs. Frustrated by Baskin’s relentlessness, Exotic made a covert visit to Big Cat Rescue where he stole documents, including Baskin’s diary, in an attempt to destroy Baskin and perpetuate a rumor that she fed her missing husband, Don Lewis, to her tigers. “Carole will go to jail, if it is the last thing I see in my life,” Exotic wrote online, offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that could lead to Baskin’s arrest.
Exotic took his attacks a step further by purposefully replicating Baskin’s company logo and marketing materials so guests would begin to confuse the two companies, making Baskin seem like a hypocrite for her actions against Exotic and so he began touring as “Big Cat Rescue Entertainment”. While the revenge plot initially worked, it backfired when Baskin sued for copyright infringement in 2011, forcing Exotic to file for bankruptcy and transfer ownership of his private zoo property to his mother.
Years later, an unexplained fire burned down Exotic’s television studio, where he would show off his animals and perform country songs. He was convinced that Baskin had something to do with it. Soon, Exotic began to make “joking” threats against Baskin, saying that he would hunt her down with his AR-15 and describe in graphic detail how he’d mutilate her body. When a friend suggested that Joe was going a little bit too far and acting a bit outlandish, he replied, “She drove me to that point.”
In 2017, Exotic made an offer to a new employee named Alan Glover: to kill Carole Baskin in exchange for $5,000 up front and $10,000 or more once the job was completed. Neither Exotic nor Glover knew at the time that their actions and conversations were under close surveillance by the FBI over the duration of several months.
After Glover ran off with Exotic’s money and it was clear the plan was off, the FBI sent an undercover agent to pose as a hitman named “Mark”. Exotic offered “Mark” $10,000 altogether, half up front, to murder Baskin. Meanwhile, the FBI had gotten to Glover, who confessed to everything Exotic had hired him to do. In the fall of 2018, Baskin was arrested and convicted that following spring with two counts of murder for hire and several counts of exotic animal abuse.
Even from jail, one of Baskin’s first thoughts was of the animals, dreaming of exotic cats being able to run free in a new cage-free zoo and feeling remorse for keeping his animals in such tight contaminants. As a prisoner, he understands their pain. “Sitting there all day with f*cking nothing to do,” he said to Intelligencer. “Looking through bars.”
In January 2020, Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.
Tiger King Season 1 introduced viewers and true crime fans to the wild, colorful world of exotic cat rescue and private zoos with equally colorful, interesting characters. Fans are practically demanding that the story continue. There is definitely a lot more to the story and a lot more to be uncovered, but the docuseries’ directors, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, express hesitation regarding their feelings on the subject matter.
“I have mixed feelings about supporting places that so-call rescue big cats because I’m not sure ultimately, they’re providing such a service,” Goode explained to Entertainment Weekly, “I hate to say this, but the Humane Society rescues dogs or the ASPCA, and they humanely euthanize a lot of dogs and people sometimes take offense with that. But oftentimes that’s the most humane thing to do, just humanely euthanize an animal rather than keeping them in a cage for the duration of its life. Carol keeps them in cages for the duration of their lives, and I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do.”
Baskin and Exotic themselves had polar opposite reactions to the series with Baskin condemning the docuseries on the Big Cat Rescue official website and Exotic expressing his admiration from prison.
Personal feelings aside, the filmmakers have found themselves with a lot of excess footage that could potentially make for an excellent continuation to a story that has taken the world by storm yet again. “I mean, yes we have a crazy amount of footage and it’s a story that’s still unfolding. We’re not sure yet, but there could be a follow-up on this story because there’s a lot that’s still unfolding in it, and it’ll be just as dramatic and just as colorful as what has unfolded these past few years.” said Chaiklin.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is currently available for streaming on Netflix.
Read more: Who is Joe Exotic and What is His Net Worth?
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