Netflix’s Tiger King became the whole world’s quarantine binge, and we’re still obsessed. Unfortunately for unlikely star Carole Baskin, the national obsession has become dangerous.
One of the biggest moments in the series — and the source of so many of those memes — is big cat zookeeper Joe Exotic (aka Joe Maldonado-Passage) repeatedly accusing rival Baskin of murdering her second husband and feeding him to her tigers. Exotic is currently imprisoned for attempting to have Baskin murdered.
When Baskin and her husband, Howard, opened their Big Cat Rescue to filmmakers a few years ago, they claimed they thought they were working on a documentary exposing the cruel captive tiger trade, they told the Tampa Bay Times.
“I just feel so angry that people have totally missed the point,” she says in her first interview since the series aired. “And the point is these cubs are being abused and exploited and the public is enabling that.”
Worse than that, Baskin says she now lives in fear, not leaving her home because of the death threats she has received.
Baskin told the Tampa Bay Times she has seen drones flying over her home, and that a doorbell camera has captured as many as 30 people a day lingering at the sanctuary gates. Strangers call Baskin’s cell phone at all hours and leave profanity-laced threats.
But while these incidents sound terrifying, the Baskins told the Times that they’re most upset at how the show seemed to ignore the suffering of the animals.
“There’s almost no way to describe the intensity of the feeling of betrayal,” Howard Baskin said.
And while people have been sharing #FreeJoeExotic on social media, the Times notes that animal welfare organizations have tried for years to raise the alarm that Exotic was abusive to the animals in his zoo. A 2011 investigation by the Humane Society of the United States showed horrible conditions at the zoo, including animals suffering prolonged deaths due to a lack of veterinary care; tigers being punched, dragged, and whipped during training; and children holding tigers that were too mature to be held safely.