SHU students roar in on Tiger King

“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” has dominated social media platforms and conversations for weeks. Viewers have become infatuated with the eccentric Joe Exotic, his conflict with Carole Baskin and the wild world of tiger owners in the United States.

The Netflix original docuseries follows the story of Joe Exotic, owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Zoo in Oklahoma and a tiger breeder. The series delves into his zoo, his tigers and his personal life, including his polygamous relationship, rejection by his family for his sexuality and his long-standing beef with Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue in Florida.  

As much as the series has sparked intrigue, it has also sparked debate among the several eccentric people involved. The Setonian asked SHU students four commonly discussed questions on the docuseries, all of which have sparked controversy. Here’s what they think:

Did Carole Baskin kill her husband?

“Tiger King” has turned viewers into Sherlock Holmes trying to solve the disappearance of Baskin’s husband and if she possibly murdered him. Baskin’s millionaire husband, Jack “Don” Lewis, disappeared in 1997 and was declared dead in 2002, without a body, according to The New York Times.

Ronia Khalaifeh, a senior political science major, believes Baskin killed her husband as “she had motive and intent.” 

She added, “She did a lot of suspicious things like altering his will and declaring him dead the day after the five-year mark, which would show that she was after his wealth and didn’t really care about him being dead.”

Nataly Areosa, a senior biochemistry major, said that Baskin’s story is “too perfect” and “she repeats the same phrases.” 

“Where’s the body?” Kimani Key, a senior marketing major, said.

Is there a difference between Joe Exotic’s zoo and Carole Baskin’s sanctuary?

Both Joe Exotic (whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage) and Baskin own tigers and offer them for public viewership. Baskin labels hers as a sanctuary and Maldonado-Passage labels his as a zoo, as he is a breeder and she adopts tigers. However, both charge fees to viewers. Additionally, Maldonado-Passage has employees while Baskin has volunteers, according to the docuseries. 

“I honestly believe that both Joe’s zoo and Carole’s ‘sanctuary’ are the same,” Khalaifeh said. “They’re both zoos… I think the way Carole advertises her sanctuary to people is the only difference between the two. At the end of the day they both profit off of their possession of the animals.”

Santiago Cabrera, a sophomore economics and finance major, believes there is a difference between the two. “You can see Joe keeps the tigers mostly in cages and Carole gives them an open space to enjoy,” Cabrera said. “Also, Carole had proper funding for it and didn’t give the tigers expired meat.”  

“There are differences due to their intentions but there are also similarities,” Donnie Oliver II, a freshman business management major, said.  “At the end of the day, how else would you contain a tiger?” 

Is it ethical to have tiger zoos if they are in the name of wildlife protection?

Cassidy Blake, a senior social and behavioral sciences major, said tiger zoos can be honorable if they are trying to protect animals from extinction or human interaction like poaching. However, she said there is no need for exploitation like cub petting.

“The owners say the cats are rescued but from what? They’re ‘rescued’ (aka stolen) to be held captive and mistreated,” Nana Kodua, a sophomore diplomacy major, said.

“It’s all about money, not about the animals for these people,” Kodua said. “A real rescue would be giving them to organizations whose goal is to ease the now domesticated animals into their natural habitats if possible.”

“How can tigers be more protected in random US states than in the jungle somewhere?” Lianne Joseph, a senior public relations major, said. 

Is Carole a tiger conservationist if she is profiting off her tigers?

“I think Carole Baskin is just as bad as all the other tiger owners/private zoo operators,” Khalaifeh said. “She may be even worse. She can’t be a tiger conservationist while also profiting off the backs of the tigers. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Areosa said she thinks Baskin is a conservationist as she has adopted abandoned cats and does not let anyone in the tiger cages, for the protection of the tigers and the public. She also appreciates Baskin speaking to Congress about a law prohibiting breeding and petting of tigers.

“Carole is capitalist,” Gediyon Prince, a freshman political science major, said. “She figured out a way to exploit both humans and tigers at the same time. I don’t think she’s a tiger conservationist.”

Bianca Stover can be reached at bianca.stover@student.shu.edu

Author: Bianca Stover

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