Goode followed a trail of clues that led him in the direction of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, the owner of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. What followed was a bizarre story straight out of a Quentin Tarantino script, complete with an FBI investigation, murder-for-hire, and very big cats.
Maldonaldo-Passage, more commonly referred to as "Joe Exotic," was in charge of the park. Sporting a bleached mullet and numerous piercings, Joe Exotic was a flamboyant character with a desire to be the center of attention. His exotic zoo, boasting almost 200 big cats, gave him the platform that he so desperately wanted, attracting masses day after day.
Unfortunately, his antics also caught the eye of Carole Baskin, a devoted animal rights activist in Tampa, FL. Like Joe Exotic, Baskin had once housed a large group of big cats on her land, but a change of heart led her to evolve into an animal conservationist. Thus her organization Big Cat Rescue was born with the end goal of ending big cat ownership around the world, pitting her against Joe Exotic.
The animal lovers feuded for years, but the tipping point came in 2016 when Joe Exotic hatched a plan to get rid of Baskin — like, for good. Fed up with the conservationist's efforts to get the G.W. Zoo shut down, he decided to pay people thousands of dollars to kill his rival.
Unknowingly to Joe Exotic, one of the people involved in the shady dealing was an undercover FBI agent who was sent to investigate him. Armed with tangible evidence that he was plotting murder, the feds brought the zoo owner into custody. Further investigation also revealed that Joe Exotic was dabbling into other illegal behavior, including the slaughter of five tigers, the interstate commercial sale of tigers, lemurs, and lions, and falsifying documents.
With all the evidence piled against him, Joe Exotic was found guilty of two counts of murder-for-hire as well as 17 federal wildlife charges in April 2019. In January 2020, he was given a hefty sentence for his crimes: 22 years behind bars.
One would think that due to all the controversy surrounding Joe Exotic over the years, but no — the G.W. Zoo is still up and running, to the displeasure of Baskin and PETA. The exotic zoo is now being run by former employee Jeff Lowe, who received immunity after cooperating in the federal government's investigation of the zoo despite being involved in his boss' murder-for-hire scheme.
He partnered with Tim Stark, owner of nonprofit organization Wildlife in Need, to keep the zoo open. It's not shocking that Lowe's partner is also embroiled in a legal battle. Just last month, the Indiana Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Stark and Wildlife in Need claiming blatant animal abuse and misappropriation of assets.
Nonetheless, the zoo is still open to the public should anyone dare to visit the premises. After all, Tiger King all but proved that the real terror isn't the wild animals in cages.
Tiger King is available now on Netflix.