The infamous Netflix documentary about tiger zoos has been one of the most discussed TV series for a while. I also spent the slightly boring months this spring watching Tiger King. At first I was wondering what the hype was all about, so of course, I had to watch it! Here’s what I think of the rather controversial story of Joe Exotic and the gang. Spoiler alert – if you haven’t watched it yet I will reveal the main storyline.
The documentary Tiger King has been on everybody’s lips for a while – and for good reason. After watching it, I understand the hype. It’s hard to describe the experience in a few words, but I immediately thought “you can’t make this stuff up”. In other words, it seems too wild to be true, but the characters are so consistent that it turns out believable. Right? Also, it would take one heck of an imagination to come up with such a story and in particular the personas. Because who has a private tiger zoo park, a major substance abuse problems among his employees, is gay and manages to persuade otherwise heterosexual young men to perform some very non-heterosexual acts?
In many ways, the culture of these zoos is like a world of its own with distinct norms, rules and moral.
This show is different from the kind of tv shows I ussualy watch.
Which Tiger King (/queen) is right about animal welfare?
The Tiger King documentary presents two very different ways of keeping tigers in captivity. Or are they all that different after all? First and foremost, there is Joe Exotic’s private zoo with tiger cubs that visitors can cuddle with. Next, there is Carole Baskin who runs a tiger park (rescue center), through a non-profit organization and runs the place with staff but mostly through the help of volunteers. Carole positions herself as an activist fighting for the rights of the “big cats”. The striking thing is that it can be difficult to see the difference between the animals’ conditions in the two places, and therefore it seems a bit ironic that one park can be categorized as a “rescue center”.However, I believe that there is a difference.
Are Joe and Carole the same?
First of all, Carole does not run her park for profit. Therefore, she cannot aim to make money from the animals. In return, it costs a lot of money to run the park, and therefore she has to cover the expenses in one way or another.
Perhaps the biggest difference lies in their perspective on breeding. Joe is forced to constantly breed since the cute little baby tiger cubs provide visitors, and this is the main business model. Over time Carole has realized that constant breeding isn’t a sustainable business model, because what do you do when the cute tigers grow up? Do you shoot them?
The paramount problem with Tiger King
There is one big elephant (or tiger?) in the room here. And this goes for Carole as well. If they care this deeply about big cats and their lives, then why not use more energy fighting for the survival of the species in their natural habitats? Tiger King is entertaining and extremely interesting in several ways. It clearly shows that something is completely wrong with regard to the perspective of (wild) animals in captivity.