HerCampus Wisco’s Take on Tiger King

The Netflix series Tiger King has recently exploded on social media and with good reason. This documentary takes place over about five years and is nothing short of absolutely insane. Although the premise of the documentary is focused on Joe Exotic and his attempt on Carole Baskin’s life, there are many issues brought to light about the morals of private zoos and big cat breeding. Setting aside all of the other morally gray areas of this documentary, I want to focus on the health and well-being of the animals kept in both the ‘sanctuaries’ and zoos shown.

Orangutan Mother and Baby

As a conservation biology student, there are countless aspects of this series that did not resonate well with me. Private zoos in general bolster the idea that animals are a source of entertainment and income, which can be dangerous as many species are threatened or endangered. For example, Joe Exotic was a self-proclaimed protector of wildlife, and even he turned into someone who bred tiger cubs for profit. This practice is harmful to the animals and does not allow for them to ever be reintroduced into the wild. Also, as we saw with Doc Antle, oftentimes after the cubs grow too large to be used in ‘playtime’ they aren’t useful for zoo owners anymore.

hawaii nature hikes originalWhen asked, most people claim to be animal advocates, but they just aren’t well enough informed. This documentary, though upsetting, sheds light on many of the issues which conservationists face currently. Protecting animal well-being is ultimately about finding ways to keep them in the wild or reintroducing them to the wild if captivity is necessary. Since privately owned and bred animals are never able to be released back into the wild, sanctuaries are the only humane solution. Though Carole Baskin was not painted in the best light, it is very clear that an operation like hers puts these big cats first, before profit.

MoneyHCWisco members seemed to agree on a few key points:

  • First, Carole Baskin killed her husband for sure and more than likely fed him to her tigers, which does not align with her code of ethics regarding animal treatment.
  • Second, private ownership of big cats, or any exotic animal, is unethical and dangerous. 

A few other points members made:

  • Saff was continuously misgendered throughout the documentary as he goes by he/him pronouns
  • Joe Exotic was abusive and manipulated his husbands’ drug addictions as a way of forcing marriage
  • Doc Antle was also abusive and preyed on young women who were passionate about wildlife.

Tiger King, although entertaining, displays the dark side of zoos and sanctuaries, particularly for big cats. My hope as a conservation student is that the general public will keep the documentary in mind when paying to visit a zoo. Do your research: does the zoo breed exotic animals? Were they rescued or purchased? Is the facility AZA accredited? Rescues can be great educational tools, but without professional care, adequate space, and physical enrichment, they are inhumane and cause more harm to the animals than good. 

If you’re in Wisconsin and want to visit a real big cat sanctuary, Wisconsin Big Cats in Rock Springs is a facility run by a husband and wife who value the animals they take care of. I have toured the rescue and would 10/10 recommend making a trip!