The Netflix docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness captured the cruel treatment of tigers and other exotic animals at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (also known as the G.W. Zoo) in Oklahoma.
The former owner of the zoo, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for animal abuse and an elaborate murder-for-hire plot.
Fortunately, many of the tigers and bears featured from the docuseries were rescued by the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.
Tigers Rescued from G.W. Zoo | Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post
Saving wildlife from Joe Exotic’s zoo
Becca Miceli, the Chief Science and Animal Welfare Officer at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, explained the process of rescuing the tigers to a CBS affiliate in Denver. “In 2017, we went on two different rescues to help get a total of 39 tigers and three black bears out of the facility,” Miceli said.
Miceli explained that many of the animals rescued from the G.W. Zoo had orthopedic issues as a result of poor nutrition. “They ranged in different conditions, I think the biggest thing is that they were all exploited to some degree,” Miceli said, then elaborated: “Whether it be for entertainment watching, a person play with them, for people to take selfies with.”
In the documentary series, Maldonado-Passage had trouble affording enough food to feed all of the tigers he held in captivity. He also allowed the G.W. Zoo guests to pay to play with tiger cubs.
The difference between the Colorado sanctuary and the G.W. Zoo
Kent Drotar, the public relations director for the Wild Animal Sanctuary told People how their organization is “almost the complete anthesis to what those other places [like the G.W. Zoo] do.” Unlike the private zoos depicted in Tiger King, the Colorado rescue “give[s] permanent homes to animals that come from situations like that,” Drotar explained.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary operates as a non-profit and consists of two properties. The Wild Animal Sanctuary is where illegally bred and kept animals are taken upon rescue, and the Wild Animal Refuge, which is as an extra 10,000-acres that provides more space for the sanctuary’s rescues.
Unlike the G.W. Zoo, the Wild Animal Sanctuary and the Wild Animal Refuge do not breed animals, nor do they allow guests to have hands-on contact.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado
The Wild Animal Sanctuary has rescued more than 1,000 animals in its 40-year history, with more than 520 lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and other rescued animals as listed on their website.
Drotar explained that 80% of the animals at the sanctuary come to them after being confiscated by law enforcement. He told People the animals often come by way of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who seize abused or illegally-owned wild animals. The Wild Animal Sanctuary serves as a safe place for those animals to live once legal proceedings connected to their seizure are complete.
Drotar said Maldonado-Passage’s tigers and bears came to the sanctuary “through a mix of surrender and the threat of legal action.” After attempting to confuse law enforcement by moving 19 tigers from the G.W. Zoo to another privately owned zoo in Dade City, Florida, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit against the Florida zoo for allowing cub petting.
To avoid the legal trouble Maldonado-Passage was threatened with as a result of his actions, he agreed to give up the tigers and bears to the Wild Animal Sanctuary. Drotar said Maldonado-Passage’s decision came just after his husband Travis Maldonado died.
While Maldonado-Passage sits in prison, his tigers are living a better life. Drotar reported that the animals rescued from the “Tiger King’s” zoo are happier now. “It was almost an immediate change [in] their demeanor,” Drotar said, adding: “They see other tigers. They see other animals. They see a horizon. They just have more of a purpose for living.”
Yesterday, fans of the Netflix docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness heard even more bizarre stories about the one and only Joseph Maldonado-Passage, a.k.a Joe Exotic. The Tiger King and I, hosted by comedian Joel McHale, went into greater detail about what it was like to work at with Maldonado-Passage at the G.W. Zoo.
While many people were excited about the prospect of new Tiger King content, some viewers took issue with the ‘rude sarcasm’ McHale interjected throughout his interviews with the cast of the docuseries.
Joel McHale | Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Michael J. Fox Foundation
[Spoiler Alert: Details about The Tiger King and I ahead.]
Who was part of ‘The Tiger King and I’?
McHale spoke with many of the famous characters from the wildly popular docuseries, including reality television producer Rick Kirkham and the current owners of the G.W. Zoo, Jeff and Lauren Lowe.
Maldonado-Passage’s former campaign manager, Josh Dial, was also interviewed. McHale’s conversation with Dial covered what is was like managing Maldonado-Passage’s political campaign and the PTSD he suffered from witnessing Travis Maldonado’s accidental suicide.
Head zookeeper Erik Cowie announced that he has never done drugs, despite what fans of the show have said. When McHale asked Cowie if Maldonado-Passage should ever be released from prison, Cowie replied: “Twenty-two years doing federal time — that guy’s gonna die in there. So, good riddance.”
Other staff, like John Reinke and Kelci “Saff” Saffery, were also interviewed. They explained how difficult it was to work for and trust Maldonado-Passage and how they never stopped trusting the animals.
Missing from the 40-minute special was Carole Baskin, owner of the Big Cat Rescue and notorious arch-nemesis of Maldonado-Passage.
Joel McHale criticized as host of ‘Tiger King’ special
Those familiar with McHale’s background on The Soup would understand that he has a very sarcastic sense of humor. That sarcasm was injected into his interviews with the Tiger King cast, which angered several viewers.
One Instagram user wrote, “The episode kinda sucked, dude. It didn’t need comedy. It already was tragedy meets comedy.” Another user on Twitter wrote: “Tiger king and I was lame, don’t do a Game of Thrones and ruin something good.”
In a time where a majority of what’s on television has to do with the coronavirus, many fans thought the comedic flair McHale brought to The Tiger King and I was warranted. McHale supporters rallied in his defense, saying his “his jaded sarcasm” was just what the episode needed.
Wait are people legitimately angry at Joel McHale for some of his comments in #TheTigerKingAndI? Being a dead-pan, condescending douchebag is his entire bit. It’s precisely why Netflix got him to host it and his jaded sarcasm worked perfectly #TigerKing
— Ben R (@benrud91) April 13, 2020
Everyone angry at #joelmchale really need to watch The Soup. Rude sarcasm is what he does!!!
— sam logan (@samtweets33) April 13, 2020
Animal activists were disappointed with ‘Tiger King and I’
McHale wasn’t the only issue viewers had with The Tiger King and I. In the episode, Kirkham mentioned that the best thing to come out of the Netflix docuseries was the attention it raised about exotic animals kept in captivity. Other than that, not very much good came out of the world Joe Exotic created.
Regardless of what Kirkham thinks, many animal rights activists were displeased with the original docuseries and even more upset with the special. Many viewers believed that the series sensationalized Joe Exotic instead of shining a light on how to improve the issue of exotic animals in captivity.
As people are wont to do, viewers took to Twitter to express their disappointment in The Tiger King and I special.
why not a special focused on issues surrounding animal cruelty that were eclipsed by your transparent thirst to turn these horrible people into memes and internet celebrities? walk the talk.while you’re at it, #renewannewithane pic.twitter.com/zOqww1rdzy
— ✨kindreds (@kindredzxx) April 13, 2020
Another Twitter user addressed Netflix profiting from a series that showcases the abuse and exploration of animals:
Watching #TigerKingandI Can’t help but wonder what Netflix is doing to support righting the wrongs seen in #TigerKing. If you are going to profit from the abuse/exploitation of animals you should make up for it. Let’s face it, TigerKing glorifies & makes fun of animal cruelty.
Still, other people were angry at the production quality of the episode, which was filmed was filmed on iPhones given everyone’s self-quarantining. Many viewers took their anger out on the producers of the series, referring to the latest episode as “the worst thing Netflix has put out.”
Form your own opinion! Tune into Netflix for the eight installment of Maldonado-Passage’s tale, The Tiger King and I.
Related: ‘Tiger King’: People are Hoping for Another Season and Creators Say Season 2 Could Happen
The star of Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, would have you believe he was a country music star. Many of Maldonado-Passage’s eccentric music videos are highlighted throughout the seven-part docuseries.
In some of his videos, Maldonado-Passage is pictured wearing priest attire. Here’s why Maldonado-Passage decided to dress like a priest.
Joe Exotic | ‘Here Kitty Kitty’ YouTube
Joe Exotic’s country music career
Maldonado-Passage was a man with several interests, including country music. Thanks to Netflix, his most famous songs include “I Saw a Tiger,” an ode to his life passion, and “Here Kitty Kitty,” a song about Carole Baskin and how she presumably fed her missing husband, Don Lewis, to tigers.
Maldonado-Passage may have come up with the ideas for his songs, but musicians Vince Johnson and Danny Clinton are responsible for the music and lyrics. Better known as the Clinton Johnson Band, both artists are listed in the credits of the Netflix series.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Tiger King creators Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin explained how Maldonado-Passage’s vocals were featured on certain songs. The duo struggled to determine which songs Maldonado-Passage was featured on, but admitted that a fact-checker told them Exotic could be heard singing on individual tracks.
Goode also mentioned a deleted scene from Tiger King, where Maldonado-Passage commented: “Of course not every singer sings all his songs, that’s just how it’s done.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Maldonado-Passage believed anyone could be both a musician and a singer but never actually sing.
Why Joe Exotic dressed as a priest
Mateusz Gugałka, who produced some of Maldonado-Passage’s music videos, told Vanity Fair that Maldonado-Passage was insistent on writing and recording videos for his music.
At 22-years-old, Gugałka started working for Maldonado-Passage after moving to the U.S. from Poland. Gugałka recalled how Maldonado-Passage “would not give [him] any notice about shooting music videos.” Instead, Gugałka said:
[Maldonado-Passage] would just wake up one morning sometimes…and say, ‘We’re going to shoot a music video today, because I had a dream, pretty much, of how I want it to look.’ Then he would show up dressed like a priest.
Mateusz Gugałka, Vanity Fair
It was Gugałka’s understanding that the “Tiger King” was “trying to start his own church at the zoo.” Gugałka didn’t know if Maldonado-Passage wanted to do so for tax reasons or he simply wanted to marry people.
Music videos featuring Joe Exotic in priestly attire
In the video for “Here Kitty Kitty,” Maldonado-Passage is wearing a clerical collar. Maldonado-Passage is also seen in his priestly attire holding a newborn in the music video for “Guardians of Children” — a tune about the “bikers who protect abused children in our country.”
Recording music videos wasn’t the only time Maldonado-Passage wore his priest look. During the docuseries, Maldonado-Passage can be seen dressed as a priest leading his husband Travis Maldonado’s funeral service.
Maldonado met his tragic end with an accidental suicide. Tiger King explained how Maldonado removed the magazine from a pistol to show that it wouldn’t fire without it, despite having bullets in the chamber.
It may be some time before Maldonado-Passage gets to fulfill his dream and start his own church. The 57-year-old was sentenced to 22 years in prison for killing tigers and the infamous murder-for-hire plot to kill Baskin.
Related: No, Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic Didn’t Record the Vocals for His Country Songs
Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Madness, and Mayhem tells the tale of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic. The seven-part docuseries captured the many people involved in Maldonado-Passage’s story, including the iconic reality television producer, Rick Kirkham.
As a well-known producer, Kirkham linked up with Maldonado-Passage in the hopes of making a reality show about the “Tiger King.” Kirkham took up residency at Maldonado-Passage’s G.W. Zoo, where he witnessed all of the insanity that happened there.
Before seeking out big cat lover Maldonado-Passage, Kirkham had a wildly successful career as a reality television star himself.
Rick Kirkham | J. Vespa/WireImage
Who is Rick Kirkham?
According to an ABC News profile, Kirkham received his first camera when he was 14-years-old. He would later use that camera to capture “a video diary of [his] life as he talked intimately about his addiction, his guilt and the love of his two boys, which would ultimately save him from self-destruction.”
Before he became addicted to drugs, Kirkham was a dancer on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. According to his LinkedIn profile, Kirkham obtained a degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma in 1981. Later, he became a crime reporter in Las Vegas for an NBC affiliate.
His days as a crime reporter are where Kirkham earned his place in the spotlight. Accompanying police on drug busts, Kirkham got to carry a gun and wear a bulletproof vest. Ironically, it was during this time Kirkham became addicted to crack cocaine.
Later, Kirkham started working for Inside Edition, where he became known for his willingness to participate in wild stunts like setting himself on fire (as seen in Tiger King). In 1996, Kirkham was fired from Inside Edition because of his addiction.
Rick Kirkham attempted suicide
When Kirkham lost his job, he lost his family and almost lost his life, too. Per Oxygen, Kirkham attempted suicide by taking 100 pills and drinking two beers while driving his Jeep, recording his every move. After surviving a near-fatal car accident, Kirkham decided to turn his life around for his two sons.
A filmmaker, Kirkham recorded much of his addiction on camera. He took “over 46 boxes of film and 3,200 videotapes” of footage and had them made into the documentary T.V. Junkie, which was later used in schools to teach kids about the dangers of drug addiction.
After getting sober, Kirkham started working as a producer for RealReels. He also briefly worked for KFBB-TV in Montana as a news director before meeting Maldonado-Passage.
Why did Rick Kirkham want to work on ‘Tiger King’?
Kirkham sought to capitalize on the unusual nature that “Joe Exotic” exuded by filming his every move and turning it into a reality television show.
In an interview with Extra TV, Kirkham conceded that being on camera was like a drug to Maldonado-Passage, which made for good reality television.
Kirkham also described the footage he captured that was later famously burned, per the Netflix series: “If I were to let the video out that I have shot of [Maldonado-Passage] killing animals on this park, of [Maldonado-Passage] tricking people by taking in their animals, [Maldonado-Passage] would probably go to jail.”
In that same interview, Kirkham shared that Maldonado-Passage was a “very evil guy to the animals and the people” that worked for him.
What does Rick Kirkham do now?
Kirkham has experienced something of a resurgence in the news since the Tiger King docuseries aired. Despite Kirkham’s original footage being destroyed, his truth was exposed thanks to his feature in the documentary.
According to Kirkham’s Facebook profile, he is currently living in Bodo, Norway, where he works as a freelance reporter for RealReels. Kirkham married his girlfriend Kristin E Rosøy Kirkham in April 2018.
How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.
How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.
The Netflix docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness is all anyone can talk about right now. Netflix couldn’t have picked a better time to release the series, considering everyone is home and practicing social distancing.
Tiger King showcases the dark world of big cat “conservation” in the United States with a focus on the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma, Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina, and Big Cat Rescue just outside of Tampa in Florida.
The cast of wacky characters in Tiger King are enough to captivate any audience, but it’s the way each of these character’s stories intertwine that make the series truly binge-worthy.
Since watching the seven-part series, Tiger King fans are eager to learn more. The creators of the series say that just might happen!
Joe Exotic – Tiger King | Netflix
The story of the ‘Tiger King’
Tiger King follows Joe “Exotic” Maldonado-Passage (nee: Schreibvogel), owner of the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma, and big cat fanatic. In his quest for fame and success, Joe Exotic takes on several business ventures, including becoming a country singer, reality television personality, and tiger cub breeder. The series also highlighted when Exotic running for president in 2016, and then governor of Oklahoma when that fell through.
Joe Exotic isn’t the only interesting character Tiger King featured. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, was also involved in the series. Then there was Carol Baskins — Joe Exotic’s arch-nemesis and owner of Big Cat Rescue near Tampa, Florida. The series captured Exotic’s focus as it slowly became less about caring for wild animals and more about taking down Baskins.
People still have so many questions about what happened in ‘Tiger King’
Tiger King took the world by storm. After binge-watching the seven-part docuseries that features country music, polygamy, drugs, a missing person, murder-for-hire, and possible cult activity, people still have several unanswered questions about Joe Exotic and his motley crew.
For example, is Joe Exotic going to shift his focus to prison reform, a la Kim Kardashian West?
Why wasn’t Jeff Lowe scrutinized for his involvement in the murder-for-hire plot? Did Lowe ever open the new zoo in Thackerville, Oklahoma?
Most importantly, are the lions and tigers and bears okay?
There might be a follow up to ‘Tiger King’
Tiger King fans are eager to hear more from Joe Exotic and the rest of the big cat world. The producers of the show have hinted that there could be a second season in the works.
Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin spoke with Entertainment Weekly, where Chaiklin revealed that the story was “To be continued.” She explained that they still “have a crazy amount of footage, and it’s a story that’s still unfolding.”
What will the second season of Tiger King look like? Chaiklin isn’t sure, adding “there could be a follow-up on this story because there’s a lot that’s still unfolding in it, and it’ll be just as dramatic and just as colorful as what has unfolded these past few years.”
Another season of Tiger King has yet to be confirmed, but fans are hopeful that it will happen given what the producers have teased.