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Tiger King
Photograph: Netflix

Five WTF? things we learned watching Netflix big-cat documentary ‘Tiger King’

By
Laura Richards
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It’s probably no exaggeration to say you’ve felt a bit like a caged animal at some point over the last fortnight. But why not use this time indoors to get stuck into Netflix’s latest compelling seven-part docu-series.

‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’ has the kind of no-holds-barred footage that lives up to its title, following the owner of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park and self-professed ‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic (aka Joseph Maldonado-Passage) – a flamboyant wild animal collector from Oklahoma, with two husbands and over 200 tigers, who in 2017 was convicted of murder-for-hire, following a plot to kill his rival and outspoken critic, Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin. 

The tale unfolds with the focus on Exotic, as well as the other fascinating and shady characters that America’s big-cat underworld appears to lure in. Here are five things we learned from binge-watching the series. 

1. Big cats = big characters and big crimes

Maybe it’s no surprise that the profiled zoo and sanctuary owners are characters. But seriously... these wild animal collectors include the aforementioned mullet-rocking, gun-toting LGBT Joe Exotic – who likes blowing stuff up and has his own reality TV website used as a platform for deriding rival sanctuary Big Cat Rescue.

Then there’s Dr Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle (yep, real name), who has trained animals for the movies, has a harem of workers he’s made into wives and rides around his 50-acre wildlife reserve on the back of an elephant – especially when he wants to make a totally natural entrance on groups that are visiting the zoo.

Not to mention Mario Tabraue, who was once Miami’s most notorious drug trafficker – stuffing live snakes with his stash. Now he owns the Zoological Wildlife Foundation, his own private collection of wild animals. His wife likes to dress their monkeys from a closet full of baby clothes.  

2. A tiger can digest bones from the human body

According to Joe Exotic. He claims the owner of rival Big Cat Rescue, Carole Baskin, used this method to dispose of her ex-husband, who disappeared in 1997. Yep, if the rumours have it, she literally fed him to the lions. 

3. Leopard print is a damn good look for the court room

It’s what Baskin chooses to dress in from head to toe whenever she’s bringing her case for the Big Cat Act to the courtroom. Pat Butcher would approve.    

4. Joe Exotic has the voice of an angel 

Seriously. Get listening. He’s written and recorded countless country warbles. And the music videos are nothing short of iconic. Particularly ‘I Saw a Tiger’, ‘Pretty Woman Lover’ and ‘Here Kitty Kitty’, where a Carole Baskin lookalike feeds ‘human flesh’ to tigers in the video. 

5. People can do some really fucked-up things to animals

Wheeling baby tigers in suitcases through Vegas hotels so they can sneak them into parties and score some photo-op money. Breeding ligers for cold, hard cash. Euthanising cats at 12 weeks as they’re no longer cute enough to bring in the big bucks. Or just simply neglecting to care for caged animals because you’re too busy running for president (yep, Joe Exotic again). You sadly get the impression this is just the tip of the iceberg, too.

There’s so much human drama in this tangled web of seedy stories, that at times you forget who the real victims are – animals abused by the people claiming to love them the most. Still, it certainly makes for compelling viewing.   

Looking for some uplift? Check out the best feel good movies on Netflix

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