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The Wild Story Behind Netflix’s New Docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness

by Mahita Gajanan: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Netflix’s latest true crime docuseries… 


dives into the wild world of big cat owners and enthusiasts in an exploration of one man’s path from attention-seeking zoo owner to convicted criminal.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic,” is the tiger breeder at the center of the series. A “gay, gun-toting cowboy with a mullet,” as he called himself, Joe Exotic operated a big cat zoo in Oklahoma for several years before he was sentenced to prison earlier this year for cooking up a murder-for-hire plot against his nemesis, Carole Baskin, who runs the Big Cat Rescue in Florida.

Over seven episodes, co-directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin chart the course of Joe Exotic’s eccentric life and introduce viewers to other figures in the big cat world—in a story that involves polygamy, mysterious disappearances, heavy drug use, cult-like leaders and the exploitation of both humans and animals. Here’s the true story behind Tiger King.

Who is Joe Exotic?

Born Joseph Schreibvogel in 1963, Joe Exotic purchased a pet store in Texas in 1989 with his brother, Garold Wayne, inspired by their shared love of animals. After Garold died from injuries sustained in a car crash in 1997, Joe Exotic used the money from a settlement won by his family to buy a ranch in Wynnewood, Okla., and turn it into a zoo dedicated to his brother’s memory.

The Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park, known as the G.W. Zoo, became populated by a growing number of exotic animals as Joe Exotic acquired tigers, lions, ligers and more. As the G.W. Zoo grew in popularity in the early 2000s, Joe Exotic became something of a local celebrity. To keep the zoo running, he continued to breed animals to keep up a constant supply of tiger cubs, and he took his exotic pets on tours, charging people for photo ops.

Because he bred tigers, Joe Exotic also became a target of animal rights activists, who accused him of animal abuse, among other concerns. His detractors included Carole Baskin, the owner of the Big Cat Rescue in Florida, who soon became the biggest thorn in Joe Exotic’s side. Although Baskin at first comes across in the series as a woman who simply loves animals and wants to do right by big cats, Tiger King reveals that there’s more in going on beneath the surface. The fight between the two eventually escalates and comes to take over both of their lives—up to and including a murder plot.

Who is Carole Baskin?

The founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit sanctuary for exotic cats in Tampa, Baskin says in the series that her fascination with cats dates back to childhood. Her love for cats extends beyond caring for them in the sanctuary—in the episodes she appears in, Baskin frequently wears tiger or cheetah print clothes, and her home is completely decorated with figurines of exotic cats.

Source: Time


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