With everyone staying indoors and self-isolating, there’s plenty of time to catch up on TV, and one show has become pop culture phenomenon: Netflix’s true crime documentary Tiger King.
The show, focusing on a feud between big cat owners “Joe Exotic” and Carole Baskin that escalates into a murder-for-hire plot, is a true story too crazy to believe.
But the series also depicts the confined, inhumane and often illegal conditions these big cats face when kept as pets in private “zoos,” and many viewers were left wondering what, exactly, happened to Joe Exotic’s tigers… and if there’s even any place they can really be treated well.
But luckily, many of the animals from the series are in better hands.
According to People, 39 tigers and three black bears belonging to Joe Exotic are now in the care of the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.
Joe Exotic, real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage, owned and operated the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma, which displayed a large collection of big cats. As depicted in the series, the cats were bred in captivity and used for photoshoots with guests, fed expired meat from Walmart, and kept in confined cages, among other allegations of cruelty.
Joe Exotic is now facing a prison sentence—in addition to being found guilty for the murder for hire plot, he was also charged with counts of animal abuse including the killing of five tigers.
But the tigers and bears at Wild Animal Sanctuary were surrendered prior to his imprisonment, as part of a separate legal settlement.
Kent Drotar, public relations director at the sanctuary, says the animals arrived malnourished and weak, and were improperly declawed, and had broken spirits.
“It’s kind of like the tigers were thinking, ‘Wow, my life is not worth living,’” he told People.
But now they’re better taken care of, and have a far more natural space to live in. The sanctuary has two properties, including a 10,000-acre refuge, a far cry from the tight cages they were kept in.
“The animals are just happier. They are no longer just pacing,” Drotar said. “It was almost an immediate change with their demeanor. They see other tigers. They see other animals. They see a horizon. They just have more of a purpose for living.”
Tiger King is an indictment of private for-profit big cat collections, but it also casts an unflattering light on rescues like Big Cat Rescue, where the animals are still kept in tight cages.
But this story shows that there are good alternatives for these tigers out there when they are rescued from captivity.
“We are almost the complete antithesis to what those other places do,” Drotar told People. “We rescue and give permanent homes to animals that come from situations like that.”
“There is no comparison on where these animals came from and where they are now.”
After seeing all the craziness of Tiger King, we’re glad to hear that the real victims of the story got a happy ending. Share this story!