As seen in the seven-part Netflix docuseries, which was released March 20 on the streaming service, the former country musician, Oklahoma zookeeper, gun enthusiast and big-cat keeper’s TV studio burned down in what is suspected to be an arson fire in late March 2015. In addition to video equipment and recordings being set ablaze, the previous Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park owner lost multiple gators, which were housed next door to the studio.
“As most of you know, an arsonist hit our facility a day before yesterday in the sometime wee hours and set fire to not only my recording studio, but the studio that houses our alligators, which caused them all to burn up and perish, boiling alive in a towering inferno of nothing but flames and fire,” Maldonado-Passage, 57, said in a JoeExoticTV YouTube video, published on March 28, 2015.
Following the fire, Maldonado-Passage told the Los Angeles Times that Jackson’s seven alligators and a crocodile had died in the blaze. According to the outlet, the exotic pets were taken from Jackson’s Neverland Ranch following its closure.
New York Mag also reported in September 2019 that “a number of baby alligators” were killed “that were the offspring of an alligator that had lived at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.” (Jackson died in June 2009.)
In a statement to PEOPLE on Tuesday, a representative for Jackson’s estate said: “Michael Jackson’s estate cannot confirm if said alligators had belonged to the late singer.”
YouTube Joe Exotic after the zoo fire
As audiences learned in Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Maldonado-Passage is serving out his 22-year prison sentence.
The series — from co-directors and writers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin — examines the life and crimes of Maldonado-Passage, who owned an exotic animal park and boasted of having the largest number of big cats in America. He was found guilty in 2019 for paying a hitman $3,000 to kill Carole Baskin, whom he considered his rival.
Maldonado-Passage — who contends in the Netflix show that Baskin killed her 60-year-old husband, Jack “Don” Lewis, and disposed of his remains by feeding them to her tigers and lions — is now serving 22 years in prison for the attempted murder plot. (He currently resides in the Grady County Jail in Oklahoma.) Baskin has categorically denied the accusation and has never been charged.
The disgraced zookeeper — who bred and kept tigers, lions and other animals at his G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma — was also charged with other crimes, including killing tigers to make way for more big cats at his park.
He served as his own attorney in a federal trial where a jury found him guilty of two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act.
Maldonado-Passage recently filed a lawsuit against various government agencies, as well as former business partner Jeff Lowe, seeking $94 million in damages.
Jeff Lowe’s wife, Lauren Lowe, previously said she and her husband are not concerned about the lawsuit.
“He has to be approved by a judge in order for it to go through and we have been told that it has a chance of not being approved,” she told PEOPLE.
Lauren said she and her husband will continue to take care of the animals from Maldonado-Passage’s zoo, which were left in their care.
“They are our family,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You give up a lot to care for these animals and we are going to keep doing that. … We want to make sure they live well. Joe abandoned all these cats. We spend countless dollars just trying to bring these guys back up to health and making sure they get the best food they can get and health care too.”