Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness

Lauren Raziano

The thrill of holding a baby tiger, capturing the purr-fect picture for Instagram, would lure anyone to an exotic tiger zoo. But the hidden reality of the underground big cats owners in America, is unfolded in Netflix’s documentary: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. 

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness is a captivating true-crime, seven part documentary on Netflix about the ownerships of tigers, lions, and exotic pets. This entirely true story follows Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic”, as he battles against lawsuits, a murder for hire charge, and his devotion to his animals. Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cats Rescue is first presented as the “Mother Teresa of Big Cats” as she often is seen in courts, dressed in animal prints, lobbying for her bill, the Big Cat Safety Act, which would end the private ownership of big cats. 

Joe Exotic often publicized his fight with Carole Baskin and revealed that she was not the saint everyone believed her to be. Not only did she exploit her volunteer workers, making them work holidays in exchange for colored t-shirts, she was also involved in her ex-husband disappearance. Joe Exotic often touted  his audience saying that she fed her ex-husband to the tigers or that she hid his body in the underground septic tank. 

Joe faced his own problems, from his drug use to relationship issues. When the feud with Carole Baskin became sour, Joe sought out someone who would kill her. In January 2020, he was convicted on the murder-for-hire charges and counts of animal endangerment.

I was enthralled in the drama as each episode introduced multiple characters as they explained the wild, twisting events. I began to understand Joe Exotic’s hardships and his harsh reality, from being disowned from his family and finding his true family in the refuge of the big cats community. My dislike for Carole Baskin grew as I saw her as manipulative and dis-trustful, her sanctuary for Big Cats as a front for her running a cult-like family and mistreatment of animals she claimed to be saving. 

The FBI involvement and on-going investigations may mean this story is far from over. Just because Joe is behind bars doesn’t mean that the others can stop looking behind their back for a tiger that might creep up and bite them when they are least expecting it. 

But, the documentary at the end refers to the true meaning of following this story. Joe Exotic’s former campaign manager, Joshua Dial, put it best in the series finale when he said: “We’ve completely lost sight and lost touch of what really matters here. And that’s the conservation protection of the species of this planet.”    The Protection of Wildlife.