Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness on Netflix is honestly one of the most bonkers true-crime stories we have ever come across – and we've sat through Don't F**k With Cats and Abducted in Plain Sight.
This new seven-part series, which follows Joe Exotic (the self-proclaimed "Tiger King", also known as Joseph Maldonado-Passage) and the seriously wild phenomenon of big-cat owners, comes from the makers of the Fyre Festival documentary. We guess we should have known what to expect, but we really, really, didn't.
Real talk: watching a gun-toting man with a mullet boast about his Prince Albert while making a bid in the 2016 presidential election and blowing up trees in his garden – *gasps for air* – is a journey. And that's not even the maddest part.
Joe was the owner of a private zoo in Oklahoma, USA – a place that housed and bred exotic animals. It was one of the biggest and most famous private zoos in the states and, with his stage name and an actual DIY throne in his grounds, Joe Exotic became something of a celebrity.
As well as gracing the cover of magazines and doing televised interviews, Joe filmed his own reality show and a number of music videos (yes, really) from inside his zoo. The park was open to the public, with people visiting from all over to bag a photograph with an animal – anyone that's used Tinder knows – and meet the Tiger King himself.
Animal rights groups and activists were troubled by this set-up, and as a viewer it was certainly tough to see some of the footage. In one scene a newborn tiger cub was literally dragged away from its mother, mere moments after entering the world.
But Joe Exotic's zoo wasn't the only one taking advantage of these majestic animals. As featured in the documentary, many other big-cat lovers were doing the same across the country, with a number of them also agreeing to be interviewed by the Tiger King filmmakers. What soon became clear was the cult-like behaviour of some of the organisations (a comparison dismissed by those in charge of them).
On the opposing side of things was Carole Baskin – owner of Big Cat Rescue, and one of Joe Exotic's biggest critics. Her organisation, reliant on volunteers, interns and donations, states that it has an ongoing mission to "end abuse of big cats in captivity, and prevent extinction of big cats in the wild."
Carole's introduction into the documentary is where things really started to take a more sinister turn. Joe and Carole were effectively going head-to-head, each arguing that the other was doing something wrong.
Disturbingly, Joe would feature threats towards Carole and her organisation within his reality show and on his social media pages. Carole took the legal route, taking action against him for issues such as copyright infringement while also trying to close his animal park. She was also pushing lawmakers to implement legislation, advocating to end the private possession and trade of exotic cats.
This battle left Joe in quite a desperate financial situation, which kickstarted his business arrangement with Jeff Lowe.
An apparent millionaire rumoured to have celebrity connections, Jeff had big cats of his own and would regularly use them to facilitate his party lifestyle in Las Vegas. Jeff ended up taking over the GW Exotic Animal Zoo from Joe, with the famous Tiger King leaving everything he had built behind him (aside from some tigers) to hide away in an unknown location.
An investigation into Joe came soon after, which involved an undercover informant and cooperation from both Jeff and one of his associates. It eventually lead to his arrest, and Joe Exotic was charged for his part in a murder-for-hire plot that was said to be targeting Carole.
According to the allegations, Joe had attempted to hire two people – one was actually undercover in the FBI, and the other was a zoo employee by the name of Allen Glover – to kill the animal rights activist. Joe was also charged with 17 wildlife charges (which included the killing of five tigers) and, in January 2020, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
A number of Exotic's former employees, as well as one of his ex-husbands, testified during his trial. Jeff Lowe, who was revealed in the documentary to have a criminal past of his own, has not faced charges for any involvement in the murder-for-hire plot.
Neither has Allen Glover, who was said to have received a $3,000 payment from Joe to kill Carole (Glover protested in the documentary that he would not have actually gone through with it). The documentary implied that they had each cooperated with the investigators to avoid being on Joe's side of the story and potentially also facing criminal action.
According to the zoo's official website, Jeff Lowe is still the CEO and they are offering a number of "attractions" and "shows" along with their animals. It now goes by the name of The Greater Wynnewood Animal Park.
By the end of the Tiger King series, Joe Exotic (still serving his sentence behind bars) had switched alliances and was starting to assist animal right's groups such as PETA in their efforts to stop the alleged ill-treatment of these big cats.
The documentary does not appear to take a stance. Instead, on-camera interviews and intimate archival footage all provide tiny pieces of the puzzle, painting an all-encompassing picture of every player in this particular game.
While you might spend much of the series flip-flopping between whose version of events you believe to be true, by the end it is quite clear that it's all just very complicated – such is the nuance of life.
But the documentary's final moment does shift the focus back to the wider issue with some stark statistics: there are between 5,000 and 10,000 tigers live in captivity in the US, but fewer than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is available to stream on Netflix.
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