‘Tiger King’ sheds light on big cat controversy

Joe Exotic, star of Tiger King.

Joe Exotic, star of “Tiger King.”

Ryan Luchene and Ryan Luchene

With the stay at home order being established people have had a lot of free time to do things like watch Netflix. One of Netflix’s originals that has benefited the most in these tough times is Tiger King. The mini-documentary is about the interconnected society of big cat conservationists centered by the poster child, Joe Exotic. The flamboyant, outspoken, mullet-rocking zoo operator of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.

The two main conservationists in the series are Big Cat Rescue, owned by Carole Baskin, and G.W. Zoo, owned by Exotic. Both owners have had a heated rivalry that’s been going on since 1999. The rivalry is mostly due to Baskin disliking how Exotic treated his tigers and other big cats. Baskin said he was using them as publicity props and not taking care of them the way they should be.

In 2006, G.W. Zoo was cited multiple times by the USDA for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. They even called local malls and fairs to keep them from booking his staged shows.

With Baskin making these claims and trying to continue as the top cat, Exotic fought back. Exotic decided to use his online reality TV show to mock and threaten Baskin, going as far as to claim that the big cat enthusiast was behind the disappearance of her ex-husband Don Lewis by feeding him to the zoo’s tigers. This made the feud between the two more personal than being the figurehead of the big cat industry. Former G.W. Zoo employees such as manager John Reinke and animal wrangler Saff Saffery — who got their hand bitten off by a tiger in the series — commented that the animals were forgotten amongst all the interpersonal fighting, and that neither truly came out on top.

The real-life coverage of a huge cluster of unfortunate events in a small number of episodes plays in the show’s favor. Exotic is theatrical with the way he runs his zoo, and of course, how he fights back in his war with Baskin. Because of how reckless and outspoken he is portrayed throughout the series, it reels the viewer in to see how far he’ll go to be the so-called Tiger King.

The series also shows the backstories of those involved with the volatile competition and how they impacted its outcome, whether it be Travis Maldonado, one of Exotic’s many ex-husbands, Exotic’s political campaign manager, or even Baskin herself. The series focuses on talking about all those involved in either Exotic’s rule as “king” or the overall market of big cat conservationists.

Overall, Tiger King really does live up to its hype as one of the most popular shows right now. It may have gotten a bit of a boost of due to the stay-at-home orders, but it was not just that alone. The whole series is a roller-coaster ride of drama and real-life crime that happened during the filming. There are also characters on the show who are either accused of crimes or convicted, such as Bhagavan Antle, a fellow animal breeder in Myrtle Beach accused of leading a cult, and Mario Tabraue, a former drug lord who is involved in animal trafficking. Each episode goes deeper and deeper into the story of Exotic and the shady world of big cat conservationism. And considering the huge amount of controversy that is covered in Tiger King, it keeps viewers glued to their seats.