Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#SteveReviews: Tiger King

On 20th March, Netflix released a series that I noticed had caught the attention of my friends on both Facebook and Twitter. I decided to check it out and below is my take on the pure insanity that follows. It took me a little while to get into Tiger King, I think the reason being the first episode is a little slow of the mark but when it gets going, boy does it! The 7-part documentary series centres around Joe Exotic, a homosexual redneck with his own private zoo facing charges of murder for hire (among others). Now if that sentence doesn’t turn your head, I don’t know what will. I’m also aware of some crazy goings on in the reptile world but this takes the biscuit!

We follow the rise and fall of Joe Exotic, with his bleached mullet and blatant gun-toting, for what seems likes a decade. We see how he runs the GW Zoo and lives like a rockstar, that is until he comes undone. I applaud the directors due to their unique and unbridled access to Exotic and his vast number of big cats. Joe Exotic isn’t the only one though, there are other characters housing vast numbers of big cats such as Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle and Carol Baskin. Doc Antle strangely has a harem of women that he seems to control with some sort of cult tactics. Carol Baskin, the target for Exotic’s murder for hire, is a widower to a millionaire who just got up and vanished one day. The story is so convoluted and messed up that the only for it to exist is for it to be real, you certainly couldn’t make it up! Both Doc and Carol also run their own wildlife parks for big cats, all with differing approaches.

Joe Exotic seems to be one of those people that chases fame and fortune, no matter that the cost. He has a loyal team of devoted staff despite his narcissism and drive to become a celebrity. To them, the only thing that matters are the cats. Carole Baskin is on the other end of the scale with a huge internet following, for her non-profit Big Cat Rescue. Her aim is to end the private ownership of big cats in America (where there are more tigers than there are in the wild). She increasingly becomes a target of Exotic’s rants and antics as she increases efforts to target his zoo to expose animal rights offences. In my opinion they’re both as delusional as one another, Baskin has an army of volunteers whom do all of the dirty work for her.

From a conservation standpoint aside from all of the politics, it’s important to not lose sight of the bigger picture. This series highlights the need for legislation such as the Big Cat Public Safety Act to be able to limit the ownership of big cats, both for the safety of communities but also for the welfare of the cats. We have pretty strict rules here in Europe against these kinds of things, surely the US can take a leaf out of our book and make some concerted efforts at conservation. To me, Exotic & Baskin etc. are like those reptile keepers that say they breed ‘for conservation’ when really they have no intention to do so, it’s a misplaced self-justication. In the end, all they care about is money at the expense of big cats.

The last episode in the series chart’s Exotic’s downfall where he is charged for 19 felonies including murder for hire and animal cruelty. I don’t want to spoil too much as it really is a rollercoaster but make sure you’ve got a beer or two to hand before you sit down and watch it. You will not be disappointed!

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