With everyone at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for something to kill the time, an unlikely phenomenon swept the world: Netflix’s true-crime documentary series Tiger King.
The hugely popular series dives into the strange world of big cat zoos, particularly eccentric cat collector Joe Exotic, who is eventually convincted in a murder-for-hire plot to kill his rival, Carole Baskin.
In addition to the juicy true crime plot, it sheds light on the unethical conditions these tigers were kept in. These cats are bred in captivity, fed expired meat from Walmart, forced to partake in photoshoots with guests as cubs and are kept in tight cages.
And in addition to his murder-for-hire plot, Joe Exotic was charged with animal cruelty, including the killing of five of his tigers.
Despite this, many viewers took all the wrong lessons from the series… and now that the infamous zoo is reopening for the first time since the series hit, fans are coming out in droves to support it.
As seen in the series, Joe Exotic ends up in prison for his crimes, and his zoo, the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, ended up in the hands of Jeff Lowe, who relocated the park last year.
Like all zoos across the country it was closed amidst the coronavirus, but as Oklahoma began reopening the economy, the park opened its gates for the first time since the series became a phenomenon.
Capitalizing on the popularity, they even renamed the zoo “Tiger King Park.”
Despite the seemingly negative light the zoo’s activities were depicted in, it seems like it’s business as usual. People reportedly flocked to the park, waiting in long lines.
“It was packed. Super busy,” visitor Daniela Toledo Vargas told National Geographic. “I got there at 2, and we had to wait until 6:20.” She booked a “tiger petting experience” with her husband after watching the show.
While the series made it clear that using tiger cubs for petting and photoshoots was exploitative and can ruin a tiger’s life in the longrun, the zoo has apparently kept the practice going, and visitors were happy to participate.
And while the zoo said they would be “following and enforcing the COVID-19 guidelines,” it’s clear that isn’t the case.
In the photos and footage posted by TMZ, it’s clear that attendees are packed together, not standing nearly six feet apart, and none of them are wearing protective masks.
While they have a legal right to reopen under state law, that kind of large gathering puts people in risk of an outbreak. And not only that, it could put the tigers’ health in danger.
After tigers tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo, emergency petitions have formed to cease close contact with tigers, according to National Geographic.
While many of Joe Exotic’s tigers have gotten a second life in a better sanctuary, it’s clear that many of them are continuing to live under the same exploitative conditions that we saw in Tiger King… and that many people have no problem supporting this.
Tiger King was a pop culture phenomenon, and it’s understandable that the attention would lead to increased interest in the zoo. But we all need to remember the tigers and not let an industry that exploits them profit from their newfound infamy.
Do you agree? Share this story!