Tiger King failed to showcase the harm that wild animals face and instead glorifies the captivation of animals for capital gain.
The life experiences of Joe Exotic (Joseph Maldonado-Passage), a private zookeeper, was depicted in this popular Netflix series. The show dives deep into the small interconnected community of big cat ‘conservationists’, who are all in competition with each other to prove who is the best at what they do.
The series focuses mainly on the bitter rivalry between Exotic, owner of the Greater Wynnewood Zoo in Oklahoma in the United States of America, and Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. The feud between the two provides mass amounts of entertainment for audiences. It is a series that keeps you on the edge of your seat and the events are difficult to predict Just when you think the series has reached its peak of craziness, Baskin reveals that she had her third husband on a leash in their wedding photos.
Baskin is a self-proclaimed animal rights activist that advocates against the captivity of wild animals in zoos and in households as pets. Joe Exotic, however, emphasised in many violent and creative ways that she too, is keeping animals’ captive in her zoo. He claimed that her conservationist ploy was just a method to remove her competition, as she specifically targets Joe Exotic’s zoo as one that harms wild animals and should thus be taken down.
Baskin’s husband Harold Baskin called her the ‘Mother Teresa of cats’ – however, her ‘sanctuary’ just like Exotic’s zoo, was also keeping tigers and other wild animals in tiny cages within a facility that is not well taken care of. Baskin herself argued that tigers need at least 400 square yards of space to live in, which she was not providing to the tigers in her care.
The director of this documentary is Eric Goode, a 62-year-old filmmaker/entrepreneur. To be fair to him, Tiger King took place over the course of five years, so he dedicated himself to showcasing the life and times of a private zookeeper. Goode, who has a history of shooting wildlife documentaries, attempts to display the cruelty these animals face. However, in Tiger King, it almost feels celebrated and worthy of fame.
The story ultimately boils down to how Joe Exotic’s plans to kill his nemesis, Carole, which may have started out as ‘banter’ or a joke, but ended up becoming a very elaborate and real plan. This is highlighted in the final two episodes, which focus on Exotic’s court case and his possible prosecution.
Rick Kirkham, a producer that Exotic hired to shoot a reality show about the zookeeper, spoke to E! News, saying that the series was “extremely accurate, but it didn’t go near as far as what it could’ve gone.”
Kirkham further stated that he captured everything Exotic did, from killing animals to abusing them and even people. He tells a story of how a woman brought her horse to Exotic and begged him to look after it. He agreed to do it, but minutes later, took the horse to the back and shot it in the head whilst being filmed by Kirkham’s team.
The final episode ends with a graphic and text which stated that 10,000 tigers are held captive in America, while there are only 4,000 tigers left in the rest of the world. This statistic highlights the massive issue with holding an endangered specie captive, yet the series glorifies these zookeepers and provides them with free advertising by showing them as animal lovers, rather than what they really are, animal killers and abusers.
The endangered tigers along with the other wild animals in captivity deserve justice which the series does not offer them.
Tiger King fails in the fact that they had the evidence to show viewers that they do not condone the cruel captivity of endangered and wild animals. Instead, after following some responses from viewers who had watched the documentary, it is highly likely that these private zoos and people like Baskin and Exotic would have had masses of increased support and fame.
FEATURED IMAGE: The trials and tribulations of Joe Exotic, the Tiger King. Photo: Dylan Bettencourt.