Well, now the whole world knows Joe Exotic, not just Oklahomans. Facebook is full of fun quarantine debates of who would’ve killed who, who did kill who, what defines a cult, who is the crazier character? I really hope we can focus on the biggest loser in this picture - the animals.
I was obsessed with zoos as a kid. It was my escape and safe haven to see animals I couldn’t anywhere else. Animals I truly loved. When I moved to Oklahoma in 2008, GW Animal Park was one of the first places I found to satisfy my need to see animals. If it wasn’t for college wrestling, I would’ve applied for a job. We went several times as freshman and sophomore in college. We played with the baby cub in Joe’s trailer. Over time, it was clear the park was taking bigger and bigger risks to bring people in. The marketing shifted from the animals to the character that is Joe Exotic. It felt like a circus. I didn’t return after 2013.
Tiger King is a pinnacle example of what is wrong with conservation and animal activism; not just Joe, but all of these so-called “leaders” in animal activism. It shows that all too often protecting the most iconic species on this planet becomes more about protecting the ego of who cares the most. One staff member said it best, “Yea, selling cubs is illegal. There isn’t a zoo in the country that hasn’t bought them when they can’t get them anywhere else.” The conservation industry is facing ethical challenges. What is the goal? Education as animal entertainment is not conservation. Abusive interactions with wildlife as education is not conservation.
SPOILER ALERT: If you genuinely care about animals, this series can get to you. You will see babies stripped from the mom immediately after birth, shoved in hundreds of faces for photos, a big cat seizing as a result of a helicopter being used in the espionage war between activists, admitted murder of cats with no explanation.
So let me get to the point, this documentary series could be as impactful as Blackfish was in changing the understanding and awareness of dolphin and whale captivity. It likely won’t be, because the eccentric personalities will get in the way of the critical message. We are not only actively destroying keystone species across the world, we are steadily shifting their populations to private entertainment options disguised as conservation.
Tim Stark, another egocentric exotic animal collector in the documentary condescendingly said, “Tigers are endangered. What do we need to do? Make more. Why would you want to stop the source?”
Tim, Joe and any conservationist breeding these animals for trade are not the source of conservation, they are a prolonged dead end for each animal they come in contact with. As well as a dead end for the entire species they pretend to represent. Furthermore, it is clear significant labor violations are taking place within the private zoo industry. People are being manipulated and abused as much as the animals, in some cases more. We need to pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act now; we need to do the same for primates and great apes in private collection. We need further legislation to protect these animals and hold THE INTENT of zoos in the twenty-first century more accountable:
- Ban private zoos. All zoos should be publicly owned or nonprofit, period.
- Ban breeding programs designed to stock animal trade among zoos. Breeding programs should focus on releasable species.
- No profiteering on interactions with baby animal.
- No animal shows, period.
- Any zoo caught violating these acts will be shut down, no second warning.
If we really want to protect these animals, we have to realize as an industry that the biggest thing we have always had to protect these animals from is ourselves. Tiger King is simply a reminder we have a long way to go.
LEARN ABOUT THE BIG CAT PUBLIC SAFETY ACT
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