Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness dropped on Netflix on Friday, March 20. The documentary series follows Joe Exotic, an eccentric exotic-animal breeder, as he goes from local celebrity to convicted criminal in the span of seven episodes. Joe is convicted for hiring a hitman to kill Carole Baskin, the cofounder of exotic-animal shelter Big Cat Rescue. Today, Baskin is still out there spreading her gospel, although not without criticism. After Tiger King’s release, Baskin wrote a lengthy blog post explaining her disappointment with the series.
Once you’ve recovered from hearing Joe Exotic’s “Here Kitty Kitty” song—or watching literally any of the other bonkers shenanigans the exotic-animal breeder turned convict creates in Netflix’s Tiger King—you might find yourself stewing over some questions. Like, Why is this a thing? Or perhaps more pressing, What happened to that lady who supposedly fed her dead husband to her tigers?
Yes, Carole Baskin. She of the floor-to-ceiling animal-print home decor, despite the intensely ironic revelation that she is, in fact, allergic to cats. Still, though, her intentions around the animals seem pure.
For reasons unknown to me (or apparently anyone), she is Joe Exotic’s sworn enemy, and he decides the best way to get rid of her meddling in his animal abuse is to kill her. This is after he has already thrown thousands of his own dollars directly into the garbage by impersonating her brand, spurring multiple lawsuits, and investing in another recording studio for his home-produced reality show—after the first studio suspiciously burns down. He, of course, blames she-devil Baskin for most of the instability in his life (and bank account).
But on the great stage of life, it appears Baskin is winning. Where is she now? The “Mother Teresa of big cats,” who went on a mission to discredit and dismantle Joe Exotic’s roadside zoo after claims of abuse, is still out there, wild and free. But not without backlash.
Carole Baskin is still running Big Cat Rescue
Although Big Cat Rescue is currently closed due to coronavirus, Baskin is still caring for her cats daily. She has a rather startling social media presence: More than 2.5 million people follow the Big Cat Rescue Facebook page, and more than 127,000 follow the sanctuary on Instagram. Baskin regularly posts updates on her animals, including those her staff and volunteers rehabilitate and release into the wild.
Big Cat Rescue—and Baskin, specifically—is facing backlash after the Netflix documentary
Pure intentions haven’t shielded Baskin or the Big Cat Rescue team from criticism following the release of Tiger King. A number of commenters—or trolls, depending on your perspective—have taken to social media to decry the sanctuary as hypocritical and exploitative. Of particular concern are two issues Tiger King raises:
(1) Big Cat Rescue operates almost entirely through unpaid volunteers.
(2) The operation does not rehabilitate and release all of its animals, instead keeping them in captivity until they die.
One commenter summarized this last issue on Facebook, writing, “Are you going to send them to a legitimate zoo like the San Diego Zoo or some place like that? Are you helping them to return to their natural habitat in the wild? Surely you can’t plan to keep them forever in Florida. As a lifelong vegetarian and animal lover, I find this rescue disturbing.”
Baskin argues that it’s illegal to release the cats into the wild because they are not native to the United States. She writes, “Any big cat that is born in a cage is doomed to die in a cage.” This, she explains, is why she wants to stop big-cat breeders and provide cats born in captivity with a good home.
She also says she’s not exploiting her staff—they volunteer to work for Big Cat Rescue, and interns are given housing and a stipend.
In addition, Baskin set up a sizable list of resources on her website, including an FAQ section that answers questions like, “Why is breeding in captivity bad?” and “How is Big Cat Rescue different than a zoo?”
The case of her missing ex-husband, Don Lewis, is still not solved. Baskin recently posted a lengthy response to the case’s portrayal in Tiger King
One of the major mysteries in Tiger King is that of Baskin’s missing ex-husband, Don Lewis, whom Joe Exotic suggests she killed and fed to her tigers. He even made a music video about it.
Although the documentary never accuses Baskin of doing the deed, the show includes interviews with many people who believe she did, and Baskin is never given much opportunity to defend herself. She posted the following response, called “Refuting Netflix Tiger King,” on March 22:
“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 backyards 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.”
She goes on to explain the entirety of the events leading up to Lewis’s disappearance, including the circumstances around his odd behavior, his money, the purported meat grinder that disposed of his body, and more.
Baskin closes by pointing out that the Wondery podcast episode about Joe Exotic did a much fairer job of depicting Lewis’s disappearance as well as her involvement (or lack thereof).
Baskin wants to take on more breeders beyond Joe Exotic
Despite her disappointment with Netflix’s documentary, Baskin is clearly happy Joe Exotic is now behind bars and can no longer harass her. That said, she has her sights set on a larger prize: no more captivity for big cats.
She says that breeders like Joe Exotic have, for years, sold big cats among themselves by “checking a box on the necessary USDA transfer form” saying that the animals were “donated” rather than sold. She hopes to help crack down on these sorts of activities through a federal bill known as the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
Baskin also hopes to pursue justice for the animals (and people) exploited by other breeders, including Bhagavan “Doc” Antle and Mario Tabraue, who both appear in Tiger King.
Here’s hoping justice comes swiftly.