Netflix’s “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” was a wild, but refreshing change of pace to take our minds off the global pandemic.
The insanely popular docuseries became the talk of millions of “stay-at-home” Americans who had nothing to do than binge-watch an array of colorful characters completely self-destruct.
But what is it really like to visit private roadside zoos like the one featured in “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”?
If you’re not familiar with the “Tiger King”’ docuseries from Netflix, you must be living under a rock.
Americans went wild for this train wreck documentary that features a brutal rivalry between two “Big Cat” enthusiasts and involves a murder-for-hire, a millionaire husband who mysteriously disappears, and polygamous matrimony.
Meet Joe Exotic.
He’s a controversial, gun-loving homosexual-polygamous who owned a private zoo in Oklahoma. He was eventually convicted of hiring an associate to try and murder his longtime archnemesis, Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue – who is believed to have actually murdered her millionaire husband in the late 1990s.
The docuseries largely follows the rivalry between Exotic and Baskin, while also underscoring the exploitation and mistreatment of exotic cats at private zoos.
Zoos seem fine on the surface, but…
Privately-owned “roadside” zoos have been woven into the American landscape.
Unfortunately, most of these small menageries of lions, tigers, and monkeys are unkempt and the animals live in dire conditions.
Cages are dirty, living spaces are small, medical needs are neglected, and diets are poor due to the high cost to feed carnivorous animals.
In “Tiger King,” Exotic spent $120,000 per year just feeding his tigers – and that was on old, expired meat from supermarkets!
Some of these tigers develop serious muscular atrophy because they’re not receiving proper nutrition and aren’t able to get the physical activity they need. They often develop abnormal behaviors such as pacing back and forth due to their lack of physical stimulation as well.
These zoos like the one featured in “Tiger King” also separate tiger cubs from their mothers immediately after birth, so cubs also don’t get the nourishment and vital nurturing they need from their mother.
Not all private zoos are terrible
Fortunately, some of America’s most-reputable zoos are actually privately owned like the award-winning non-profit Phoenix Zoo.
The Phoenix Zoo is accredited by both the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). These associations assess animal care, veterinary programs, conservation efforts, education, and other metrics.
Sadly, only 10-percent of licensed animal exhibitors are accredited by the AZA – meaning the other 90-percent don’t have any oversight, often leading to the mistreatment and exploitation of their animals.
Research before you visit
One of the biggest differences between accredited zoos and the ones like Joe Exotic’s is that visitors are not allowed to physically interact with dangerous animals at accredited zoos.
Part of the attraction of Joe Exotic’s zoo was that visitors could pet tiger cubs and have their pictures taken with them.
All this being said, there was never a moment in the series where you thought Joe Exotic didn’t care about his animals. Unfortunately, his own demons and greed became his downfall and his animals suffered in the process.
So before you decide to take the family to visit one of these private zoos, do your research and find out if they’re accredited.
Consider if your money is helping to keep these animals healthy and alive, or if it’s enabling their mistreatment and exploitation.