There are two things that the world is probably thinking about right now. And if one of them is COVID-19, the other is almost certainly the Tiger King. While star of the show, 57-year-old Joe Exotic is said to be revelling in his newfound fame - Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is number one in Netflix charts around the world – he’s also hoping that his current status might well be enough to see him out of prison, too.
So, who is Joe Exotic?
Since we all went into lockdown there have probably been two things – beyond the incessant social media challenges – that have held us all together: the evening cheer for frontline health workers around the world, and the six-part Netflix series about big cat owners that sharply descends into a missing (presumed fed to a tiger) husand, next level redneck fashion, assault rifles and murder for hire. The main force in this sheer lunacy is former Zoo owner – now 22-year county jail guest – Joe “Exotic” Maldonado-Passage.
Five years in the making, the documentary was made by filmmakers Erik Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin after they stumbled upon the unusual lifestyle of big cat owners in 2014.
Why is Joe Exotic in prison?
On January 22, Exotic was found guilty of 19 felonies, including crimes relating to the illegal wildlife trade, selling tiger cubs, and allegedly shooting and killing five tigers. There’s also the small matter of the two counts of murder-for-hire of his arch nemesis and Big Cat Rescue owner, Carole Baskin.
Has he appealed against the sentence?
Exotic actually filed a lawsuit on March 17, three days prior to the Netflix show dropping. In doing so, he demanded a combined $94 million from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, his former business partner Jeff Lowe and several former colleagues. Ever the showman, Exotic also requested a presidential pardon from Donald trump, too because, well, if you don't ask, right?
“This lawsuit has been filed in the name of Justice, The Trump Administration must be made aware of the Overreach, perjury, abuse of power and the failure to uphold the Oath of their position which is truth and Justice for all,” read the post on his Facebook page. “The Agencies and its counter parts have abused the system for a private agenda. The Director Dan Ashe used his Government position to create an illegal monopoly with the AZA and shut down hard working American businesses for self gain. I have been illegally charged with these crimes and the Trump Administration, the United States Department of Interior along with the Federal Wildlife service must be held accountable for what they have done to me, my parents and my family, along with my animals.”
It's ok though, Cardi B is supporting Joe Exotic
Unsurprisingly, a celebrity world on lockdown requires an outlet, and it appears that the Tiger King has given our housebound heroes – from Jared Leto to Kim Kardashian – a real cause to unite over, too.
Has anyone seen Tiger King on Netflix?!?! It is crazy!!!!— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) March 22, 2020
Thankfully for Exotic, it appears that he now has the full force of Cardi B behind the push for his release. Let's face it, if the Bronx-raised rapper can’t get things done, he's probably got no chance.
Bout to start a gofundme account for Joe .He shall be free.— iamcardib (@iamcardib) March 28, 2020
What about the other stars of Tiger King?
Well, since the show immediately entered TV folklore, the rest of its unwitting stars have been quick to voice their uniformed displeasure. Unsurprisingly, the biggest complaint being that of the (not murdered), Carole Baskin, who took the show to task in a lengthy blog post.
“When the directors of the Netflix documentary Tiger King came to us five years ago they said they wanted to make the big cat version of Blackfish (the documentary that exposed abuse at SeaWorld) that would expose the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big cat cubs for cub petting exploitation and the awful life the cats lead in roadside zoos and back yards if they survive.
“There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the docuseries not only does not do any of that, but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers.”
Elsewhere, it turns out that the owner of The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species – Doc Antle – is really called Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle (Bhagavan meaning “Lord” in Hindi) after all, although brilliantly he was known as Kevin in school. Antle, it turns out, is upset with the Netflix show because it suggested that his big cat park was basically a weird cult.
Finally, Joe Finlay, who took the unusual decision to film all his pieces to camera without a shirt on, is upset that the filmmakers didn't use any footage of him with his newly purchased full set of teeth, leaving his witness to be that of the gap-toothed variety. Fair enough really.
Whether the newfound celebrity of Joe Exotic will be enough to help him gain a reduced sentence, or even full pardon, seems fairly unlikely. But there’s nothing straight forward about this story, so don’t be too surprised if you see him out sooner rather than later. Failing that, expect a country and western music video from prison to drop anytime soon… now if he can just figure out how to get a liger in there.