Yep. I went right down that rabbit hole along with so many of you.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t watched or finished watching Tiger King, do it now! I’ll wait.
What the actual hell??????? I was hooked the first 30 seconds. This real life drama played out in the early 2000’s and why the heck didn’t I hear about this sooner than last week? Here is the short version:
Joe Schreibvogel, also Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also Joe Exotic, is a Gay, Redneck, Country Singing, Zoo owning, breeder of exotic cats who is proud of his mullet. He had 2 or 3 husbands. One died of a self inflicted gunshot (Travis Maldonado). Still not sure if this was suicide or accidental. Not sure if any of his husbands were actually gay.
His brother died in 1997 in a car crash. Joe used the money from a settlement pertaining to that crash to purchase a ranch and turn it into a zoo. I mean wouldn’t everyone do that? I wouldn’t even think of maybe just going on a vacation or buy a new house…..
It goes from a simple zoo to lots of sex, drugs including meth, animal abuse, con artists and shady dealings. Oh and lots of guns and country music. Then there are more fun characters that get involved including Carole Baskin, who owns the ‘Big Cat Rescue’ in Florida. It’s said that she possibly killed her first husband Don, who was a millionaire who just up and disappeared one day. Really? Did she kill him? Did they check the meat grinder?
Anyway, she is now married to Howard. Story goes that Carole and Joe went after each other (for all kinds of reasons) for so long that it started to consume both of them. Let’s be real here, they are both moon-bat crazy. She is supposedly a big cat rescue but she started out breeding and selling them. Making her no better than Joe. Plus she is just plain annoying in the docuseries. Not sure I can ever wear leopard print clothes again after seeing her wardrobe. It gets really bad between them and all of a sudden there is a hit for hire thing going on and Joe supposedly hires the hit from someone who worked with him that was also crazy and that guy took the money and ran. (Maybe he’s the smartest one in the bunch!) You really just have to watch it. I can’t put it all into words. I was speechless most of the show!
Other characters in this mess are John Finlay, one of Joe’s husbands, who was really straight. Doc Antle, who owns the Myrtle Beach Safari Wildlife Encounter. I follow his son on TikToc because he dresses like Tarzan. I know, weird things fascinate me. Just for the record here, I do not think Doc or his son abuse animals. They all look healthy and all that. It’s just I have a hard time with animals in captivity, being used for “show”. But that Tarzan guy, lol.
One of the most fascinating characters from this series is Rick Kirkham. He was filming Joe and his story for his “retirement” plan. All his films ended up burning in the Alligator enclosure at Joe’s zoo. Some think he actually burned it himself. He lives in Norway now. I think he was taken on a ‘Mr. Joe’s wild ride’ and just got in deeper and deeper. Sucked in so to speak. It’s said they still don’t know who set the fire. But some point fingers at Rick himself.
Jeff Lowe is another one that fascinated me. He came in the picture to help Joe out of losing the Zoo. I think Jeff still owns the Zoo. Which is still open but not doing well I hear. Jeff is a brilliant man with some serious side chicks. And seems to be a serious con artist. I need to learn more about that guy.
One more for the road.. A transgender man named Saff, an employ at the zoo, had his arm ripped off by one of the Tigers. While this is being filmed, Joe says something like, “well I will never recover from this financially”. He then goes to the gift store to tell people waiting to see the tigers what has happened and offers them a rain check or possible refund. Again, YOU CANNOT MAKE THIS UP! This same guy who lost his arm, comes back to work seven days later! Talk about work ethics! I would not be that dedicated for sho!
I will say this, I do feel bad for Joe. He mentions that when he figured out he was gay, he told his dad. His dad, in front of Joe’s mom, denounced him as his son and tossed him out. I think this is where things started to go bad for Joe. He seemed to constantly look for love and attention. From other people and animals. I believe the dejection from his father sent him to crazy town.
You also find out that Joe is a country singer. I am not a country music fan, but I feel like he sang well enough to have made singing his profession instead of Zoos. But what do I know. He had the clothes, the mullet, the guns and the voice. Just saying. Oh Joe. You should’ve just sang the blues brotha. It would have saved you some prison time. Or not.
But the saddest thing is at the end of the show, Joe shows two of his chimpanzees. They were in cages side by side for 10 years. He finally had to send them to a wildlife preserve where you see them finally together out in the open. Hugging each other and running around. The reality of what his zoo had done to the animals was clear. He loved them dearly but he stifled their need to be free. To be in the wild. He realized they were lonely for the last 10 years. Kinda like what his own father had done to him. This part actually made me cry.
There is so much more to this story and I can’t get it all into one post. But the flip side to this enthralling drama and time suck from Netflix is the story it tells about Zoo life. There are different kinds of Zoos out there and we really need to be educated on what is ethical and what is not. Fortunately I have a good friend who is a wildlife biologist. She goes by ‘The Fancy Scientist’ on social media and recently wrote a piece on ethical vs. unethical zoos. She included some thoughts on the show, Tiger King, also. You can read it here:
I would love your input on this show! If I could sum it up in three words, they would be, “Oh My Goodness”… But I give it 5 Margaritas for sure!
Peace, Love & Margaritas!