Fact-Checking the Tiger King

Netflix’s new documentary series, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, has taken the internet by storm. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll have almost certainly heard about it.  Every episode tells the shocking tale of Joe Exotic and his zoo will leave you more dumbfounded than the last.

If Tiger King isn't enough to put you off owning exotic animals, then we've done the research and some fact-checking, to set you on the right track. 


There really are more big cats in the US than in the wild

According to the World Wildlife Fund and the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, between 3,200 and 3,500 tigers remain in the wild, whereas there are more than 3,200 in the US alone. Furthermore, between 5,144 and 10,000 big cats are privately owned in the US. That’s only an estimate, so the real number could actually be much higher. Here in the UK, there are currently more than 40 privately held big cats. A  big number for a small island.

There are some loose regulations on owning exotic animals

As you may well have seen, Joe Exotic’s zoo, G.W. Zoo, is situated in the state of Oklahoma. What makes things more confusing across the pond regarding the sale and transport of big cats, is that there is no single federal regulation governing all states across the USA. To own a big cat in Oklahoma you simply need an official license or permit. Four states have no bans whatsoever on private exotic pet ownership. The remaining states have either a partial or comprehensive ban, which is much more thorough than permit or licensing schemes.

Tiger Entering Water

Joe Exotic was one of America’s biggest tiger cub suppliers

Mainstream media reporting shows that Joe was one of America’s biggest tiger cub suppliers, albeit illegally. Exotic took no shame in admitting that he bred tigers to create cubs, which would draw in crowds both in his roadside zoo and roadshows across the US. The sad fact is that cubs can only be interacted with whilst they are still considered safe, usually around 8-12 weeks after birth. Both cubs and adult tigers suffer during this practice, as adults are quickly made to breed again, and cubs may face death as once their happiness to be petted diminishes.

Uncovering Joe Exotic’s loophole

As mad as it sounds, a lot of tiger sales were still legal as recently as 2016. That's when a law came into place making it illegal to sell tigers across states without a permit. Also, whilst pedigree tigers fell under the Endangered Species Act, meaning that their welfare in captiviy was well-regulated.  Not-pedigree or generic tigers that are we all know and love, have mixed genes and were not protected by the Act. This meant that permits were not needed not buy and sell them. Records collated by National Geographic, show that between 2010 and 2018, Joe’s zoo shipped out 168 tigers to a range of sanctuaries and zoos across America.


Tiger Entering Water


Carole Baskin may have one upped Joe

Spoiler alert! Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic’s conflict is one of the docu-series’ most prominent themes. But, as much as Joe slates Carole there’s one thing he can’t take away from her, Big Cat Rescue’s accreditation. According to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, Big Cat Rescue Corp. is Florida’s only accredited big cat sanctuary… that’s 100% more than the state of Oklahoma. Sorry Joe.


Joe Exotic might look familiar to you…

Ever get the sneaking suspicion that you’ve seen Joe Exotic before? Well chances are, if you’re into off-the-wall documentaries, you have. Way back in 2011, Joe Exotic starred in a Louis Theroux documentary about America’s Most Dangerous Pets. Foreshadowing his outrageous antics in Tiger King, Exotic told Louis that if he were attacked by a tiger, it would be more humane to shoot, rather than try to rescue him. Ouch.


If you're looking for an absorbing and frankly crazy documentary to kill some lockdown time, then Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is a great Netflix binge. We wouldn't recommend visiting in person though.

Blacks supports the lawful, responsible care and welfare of all animals.

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Blacks old-timer, Sophie, joined the online team back in 2017 after serving customers in her local Blacks store whilst completing her degree. Voluntary work with The Scouts, Girlguiding and The DofE, means she knows expeditions and outdoor kit like the back of her hand.

Catch Sophie checking out new trails on weekends, and she's always game for a hike, especially if it involves a pub at the end.

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