Spoilers for Tiger King ahead. If you've watched Netflix's absolutely nutty Tiger King, you'll already know that one of the most compelling figures to come out of the show is Carole Baskin. Main character Joe Exotic (a.k.a. Joseph Maldonado-Passage)—the controversial zoo owner, breeder, musician, and attempted politician, among other things—is currently serving time for animal cruelty and, oh yeah, hiring someone to have Baskin killed. Baskin herself used to have a business centered around exotic animals and now works in animal advocacy in conjunction with PETA. Her work to eliminate private ownership of big cats (which is exactly what Exotic was doing) led the two to become nemeses.
Baskin, who is (fortunately) still alive, is not a fan of the docuseries itself (don't worry, we'll get into that). Here's what we know about what she's been doing, and saying, since the show finished filming.
Baskin and Joe Exotic have a long, fraught history.
Baskin first appeared in news stories in the '90s. Her own history with big cats started when her second husband, Don Lewis (more on him below) bought her a bobcat from a fur farm, and the two subsequently bought all the other cats slated to be killed. Their sanctuary grew to 200 cats and included interactive visits: "To fund the business, they allowed guests to rent cabins on their property and spend the night with big cats as their roommates."
Eventually, Wildlife on Easy Street became Big Cat Rescue, and Baskin stopped breeding the animals, instead bringing in guests to interact with them. Her work morphed into animal rights activism with her third husband (Howard Baskin), which meant that she and Exotic began butting heads. Baskin objected publicly to Exotic's treatment of the animals, specifically his practice of breeding them and using cubs as entertainment, and of keeping the animals in substandard conditions like tiny cages. She even called for malls to cancel events that Exotic was hosting.
And then things got really weird: After a long feud including a low-budget music video Exotic aimed at Baskin and a copyright lawsuit after Exotic changed the name of his company to Big Cat Rescue Entertainment, Exotic tried to hire an employee as well as a hitman to have Baskin killed. The hitman turned out to be an undercover FBI agent (oops) and Exotic is now serving out a long prison sentence for murder-for-hire and animal cruelty.
Baskin did not like 'Tiger King.'
In a recent lengthy blog post, Baskin deplored the "salacious and sensational" docuseries and set about refuting it.
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...They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.
The series also delved into Baskin's potential, alleged involvement in the disappearance of her second husband (Baskin left her first husband who, she explains in the docuseries was abusive to her, for Lewis), which Baskin called "the most ludicrous of all the lies." (Don Lewis went missing without explanation in 1997 and was declared legally dead in 2002). Baskin spends a big chunk of the blog disputing the claims.
As of this moment, it appears that Baskin still runs Big Cat Rescue and continues her work towards animal welfare. Vanity Fair spoke to her before she'd watched the season, and Baskin said of Exotic: "He wasn’t a big part of my life in any way, and to have it be this great story…it’s been really frustrating for that to be the perception that he was some huge part of my life."
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