Tiger King: Behind the murder, mayhem and madness

Netflix docuseries fails to highlight the pitfalls of America’s big cat industry

Filled with people who seem too crazy to be real, foiled murder-for-hire plots, and of course, tigers, Netflix’s ‘Tiger King: Murder Mayhem and Madness’ has captured the attention of millions of people who are stuck at home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Unfortunately, while the show was entertaining, its portrayal of America’s big-cat industry and convicted felons left much to be desired.
The narrative of ‘Tiger King’ was clear, Joe Exotic whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage and is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for a murder-for-hire plot, as well as numerous wildlife violations, was to be the outlandish zoo owner with his outrageous outfits, catchy songs, and passionate love for tigers. It was the type of narrative that would make any person wonder how such a character could be guilty of attempting to hire a hitman to kill his arch-nemesis, Carole Baskin, in November 2017.
However, following the show’s release a former employee of Maldonado-Passage’s came forward with information about what the docuseries failed to show about the eccentric man. Stating that Maldonado-Passage had killed more than 100 tigers and would hit cubs if they misbehaved, former head zookeeper Erik Cowie’s claims greatly strayed from the story we had been fed by ‘Tiger King’.
Maldonado-Passage has also been accused of running over emus with a four-wheeler with the intent of selling their bones to a museum and his crew members of throwing live animals into tiger cages for fun. An investigator for the Humane Society in 2011 found that tigers were often beaten and whipped during training and cubs were passed around the zoo before they even opened their eyes.
‘Tiger King’ did not show any of this and as a result, the millions who have watched it have been shown a story in which the obvious villain is almost painted as a victim.
Instead of focusing on the horrendous mistreatment of big cats committed by Maldonado-Passage, ‘Tiger King’ makes animal-rights activist Carole Baskin the clear intended villain of the show.
Baskin, the founder and owner of Big Cat Rescue, a respected animal sanctuary in Tampa Florida was subject to wild, unfounded theories throughout ‘Tiger King”. Claiming that she murdered her ex-husband, Don Lewis, and fed him to the tigers, Maldonado-Passage’s hate campaign against Baskin was central to the show, his theories often being conveyed as truth as evidenced in an entire episode being dedicated to the 1997 disappearance of Lewis.
By portraying one of the few participants in the docuseries who has not been convicted of anything murder-related as another corrupt animal abuser, ‘Tiger King’ successfully shifts negative attention away from Maldonado-Passage causing viewers to come away from the with the idea that he is the one who has been wronged.
In the aftermath of ‘Tiger King’ Maldonado-Passage has received celebrity support from the likes of Cardi B, who wanted to set up a Go Fund Me for him before finding out it wouldn’t be legal. There has also been talk of a presidential pardon which President Trump jokingly said in a Coronavirus press briefing on April 8 that he would look into.
Though it was entertaining, ‘Tiger King’ missed an opportunity to bring to light the harsh conditions and abuse that big cats in captivity are often forced to endure. What could have been a ‘Blackfish’ moment for tigers, was transformed into what can only be described as mayhem and madness.

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