Carole Baskin, savior of wild cats and number one fan of leopard print tunics, is the subject of many recent headlines due to the release of the Netflix docu-series, The Tiger King, which began streaming today. The Tiger King, which focuses on the trials and tribulations of wild cat zookeeper and breeder Joe Exotic (also known as Joseph Maldonado-Passage now), introduces Carole Baskin as his nemesis.
After spending years collecting wild cats and touring around with them, hitting up shopping malls and curating magic shows, Joe Exotic eventually opened an off-road zoo called the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park, or GW Zoo, located in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. Spanning 16 acres, Exotic hosted at least 1,000 wild animals, including tigers, lions, bears, and alligators. He attracted crowds of folks who were eager to observe these animals in much closer proximity than you would at a real zoo or wild animal park. They were even allowed to pet and play with the cubs. Exotic made a killing with his private zoo — he even ended up opening a bar and restaurant nearby.
Over time though, it was revealed that Exotic wasn’t following best animal-keeping practices or even taking care of his animals, period. According to the Texas Monthly, Exotic shot and killed several of his emus after they escaped transportation, didn’t keep his grounds sanitary, inbred the animals which resulted in deformed and unhealthy cubs, and eventually, Exotic killed at least five of his tigers as a way to downsize.
Baskin, on the other hand, was (and is) an animal rights activist who is the CEO and founder of Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit animal sanctuary that aims to protect and save wild cats from around the country who face abuse. The battle between her and Exotic started when Exotic used the Big Cats Rescue name as a way to advertise his zoo. She sued him for $1 million on trademark infringement and she won. Exotic became a huge target for Baskin, who saw his operations as vile and cruel. She even worked with PETA to get GW Exotic Animal Memorial Park shut down.
Exotic, who was starting to unravel at this point, allegedly tried to pay several hit men to kill Baskin. Fortunately, none of the supposed attempts were successful, and in 2018, after he had given up the zoo, he was found in Florida and arrested by federal agents. On January 22, 2020, he was found guilty on 19 counts, including killing tigers, fraud, and plotting a murder-for hire in order to kill Baskin. He’s been sentenced to 22 years in prison, but still maintains his innocence.
Baskin, on the flip side, has her own skeletons. While clearly passionate about her mission, rumours that Baskin killed her second husband follow her wherever she goes, and that includes The Tiger King, which interviews her late husband's concerned family members and people involved in the case who suspect foul play. Baskin, to this day, maintains her innocence.
So, Where Is Carole Baskin Now?
Baskin continued to do what she loves: protecting and saving as many big cats as she humanly can. She still lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband Howard Baskin (whom we meet in The Tiger King). Big Cat Rescue, according to the foundation’s site, is one of the largest accredited sanctuaries with the mission of saving abused and abandoned big cats. The sanctuary has over 80 lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats, and more.
The site also informs us that Baskin is hard at work with nonprofit groups like The Humane Society to advocate for the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would make any kind of public contact with big cats illegal (that includes petting and playing with the cubs). The bill has gone through the Committee on Natural Resources and may be headed toward the House floor. You can see updates on Big Cat Rescue's official Instagram. You can also watch live videos on their website.
While Baskin is proud of the part she played in Exotic’s prison sentence, she’s still concerned what will happen when he one day gets released. On the Big Cat Rescue site, she shared a statement she stated in court: “If he completes his sentence and is released, we will end up spending the rest of our lives, constantly looking over our shoulders, for a threat to our lives. I hope you will give us many years free of that threat as you can.”
In Florida, Big Cat Rescue is still open to the public, and Baskin still runs it.
What Does Carole Baskin Think About The Tiger King?
According to Vanity Fair, Baskin didn’t want The Tiger King to feel like “a freak show about Joe.” She recently spoke with the magazine and shared her side:
“I think for Joe, [the feud] was probably very personal, because people said there wasn’t a day in his life that he wasn’t ranting and raving, and carrying on and calling out my name. But for me, he was just one of about a dozen of these bad guys that I was exposing online, talking to reporters about, and saying, ‘no, conservation [does not mean] breeding tigers for use as pay-to-play props.’”
But when the Netflix docuseries co-director, Eric Goode, told her what he wanted to accomplish with The Tiger King (as in, exposing an astonishing cruel business that profits off the abuse and fetishization of rare and endangered wild cats), Baskin became more on board. In fact, Baskin helped Goode and co-director Rebecca Chaiklin create the docuseries over the five years they worked on it.