'They want to hate on me again': Carole Baskin's 'Cage Fight' with 'Tiger King' fans
Netflix unleashed "Tiger King 2" Wednesday, but Carole Baskin wants no part of it.
The co-star and originator of the once-ubiquitous greeting, "Hey, all you cool cats and kittens!" would prefer that viewers instead tune in to "Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight" (now streaming on Discovery+). In the two-part docuseries, Baskin, her husband Howard Baskin and their team of investigators go on the attack to protect big cats against abuse by zoo owners.
When Baskin saw herself featured in the trailer for the next chapter of "Tiger King" (which started filming in April 2020 and continued until recently) she thought to herself "How on Earth did they have images of me in that?" she tells USA TODAY. "That's why we filed the lawsuit."
Baskin and her husband are suing Royal Goode Productions and Netflix for including her in the show's sophomore season. "They didn't have my permission to do that," Baskin says. Netflix has said in court documents that the pair, who wed in 2004, "have no claim at all."
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Two of the five new "Tiger King" episodes continue to explore the 1997 disappearance of Baskin's first husband, Don Lewis, but the Baskins are hardly seen. Most footage appears to be from her YouTube channel and interviews with media outlets. (Lewis' disappearance remains a mystery.)
The popular first season of "Tiger King" centered on the life of Joe Exotic (real name: Joseph Maldonado-Passage) – a man with an affinity for big cats, blonde mullets, guns and explosives – his life at Oklahoma's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (referred to as the G.W. Zoo) and his hatred of Baskin, the founder of Tampa's Big Cat Rescue sanctuary. He deemed her a threat to his livelihood through her advocacy of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which aims to abolish ownership of big cats as pets and the practice of cub petting.
"Tiger King" also cast a shadow of suspicion around Baskin. She said she believed Lewis was on his way to Costa Rica, and that she suspected he might've suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Others, including Joe Exotic, said they believe Baskin fed Lewis to her big cats. In the early moments of "Cage Fight," Baskin faces graffiti implicating her as Lewis' killer at Joe's former zoo, which she was awarded and later sold. "If Carol (sic) killed her husband clap your hands," the graffiti read.
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"It's such a misperception that people have," Baskin says of the notion she killed Lewis. "I think it was through clever editing of 'Tiger King' and lining up one animal abuser after another to back each other up with this false narrative that caused people to believe that. I'm sad that people fall for something so easily without doing any kind of research."
Baskin says "Tiger King" was misrepresented as "the equivalent of 'Blackfish," the 2013 documentary examining the consequences of keeping orca whales in captivity. But the result, Baskin says, was a "dumpster fire."
She and her husband binged the first season after its March 2020 release. "When it came out, we had no idea who had even done this show called 'Tiger King,' because we had never heard of a show about that. And that was not at all what we had been working on."
Baskin says she didn't realize the power of the show until she began getting phone calls from "people just cursing and swearing and saying they wanted us dead." She says she watched the series seven times but is still at a loss for why "people want to kill the one person who's trying to end the abuse of these big cats."
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The calls came nonstop for three months, she says, and resumed after the release of the Season 2 trailer in October. "People have just seen a trailer, and all they can do is remember how much they hated me from last year," says Baskin. "So they want to hate on me again this year."
Baskin says "Cage Fight" provides a true depiction of her life, while "Tiger King" fell short. "If you think about that series, it's a bunch of derelicts, talking heads (who) are trash-talking the person who's been coming after them," she says. "When you see 'Carole Baskin's Cage Fight,' you're actually in the trenches with me, digging up the evidence."
In the opening of "Cage Fight," Baskin takes aim at Jeff Lowe, who took ownership of Joe's G.W. Zoo in the first season of "Tiger King." Her team flies a drone over his Thackerville, Oklahoma, property, observing the conditions in which the animals are being kept. Baskin also explores the G.W. Zoo (at the time still in her possession), searching for evidence Lowe was involved in a criminal network of illegal buyers and buried animal skeletons, evidence that cats were killed.
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Lowe, aware of the drone flying over his property, confronts Baskin's investigators, threatening to beat them up and implying he would destroy their camera in the sky: "I hear that drones get shot down a lot around here," he says. "So if you want that thing in one piece, I'd keep it off my (property)."
"You always feel that sense of imminent danger," Baskin says of her crusade. "I've had shots fired so close to me before that I could actually hear the bullet whistling by. When I hear shots being fired, what I'm listening for is how close is the fire?"
Joe Exotic's malice turned into a punishable offense when he allegedly hired zoo handyman Allen Glover to kill Baskin. Glover denies he planned to harm Baskin, and Joe claims a $3,000 payment was a donation to Glover so he could leave the zoo. Although Joe maintains his innocence in "Tiger King 2," he was arrested in 2018 and found guilty of 19 counts, including attempted murder for hire, killing five tigers and the selling of lion and tiger cubs. In January 2020, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison, but a court this summer ordered his sentence be reduced.
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Baskin says a locked prison cell is where Joe Exotic belongs: "I think anyone who breeds big cats for life in cages should have to spend some time in a cage to see what that's like and what they've done."
In the second-season finale, Joe expresses regret over holding animals in captivity: "After being (imprisoned) for three years, I know now how my animals felt. I'm ashamed of myself."
Baskin hopes viewers of her documentarytake away the same message.
"I hope when people see 'Carole Baskin's Cage Fight' that they understand that none of this breeding is serving any conservation value," she says. "None of the cats who were born in cages can ever go free, and the only way that we are going to save tigers is by protecting them in the wild. This whole industry of having cubs on display, it's all about making money for the people who breed them. It's not about conservation."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Tiger King' star Carole Baskin dispels theory she killed Don Lewis
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