What PETA Has to Say About the ‘Tiger King’ Netflix Series and Joe Exotic

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6 min read

A new seven-part docuseries from Netflix called Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness follows filmmaker Eric Goode as he details events leading to the 2019 murder-for-hire and wildlife-crimes convictions of notorious abuser of big cats Joseph “Joe Exotic” Maldonado-Passage, and PETA plays a key role. PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet agreed to be interviewed for the series to talk about the horrid abuse that animals suffered at the hands of Joe Exotic and other exhibitors featured in the film.

PETA and our supporters campaigned for years to help animals abused by Joe Exotic. Before his ultimate conviction, PETA helped rescue 39 tigers, three bears, two baboons, and two chimpanzees from the hellhole roadside zoo that he ran. ALL of them are now thriving at reputable sanctuaries.

PETA and Joe Exotic

Maldonado-Passage—aka “Joe Maldonado,” “Joe Schreibvogel,” and, of course, “Joe Exotic”—has been in PETA’s sights for years. He is a notorious animal abuser and was once the primary supplier of big-cat cubs used for the cruel cub-petting industry. The world will be a safer place for everyone with this man behind bars, where he can no longer harm animals or the animal advocates he threatened.

tiger king netflix doc: peta and joe exotic

PETA Responds to Tiger King

Roadside zoos and other tourist traps that exploit lions, tigers, and other animals are often even worse than Tiger King lets on. However, the series does a good job of accurately portraying animal exhibitors—including Joe Exotic, Jeff Lowe of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (G.W. Zoo), Bhagavan “Doc” Antle of Myrtle Beach Safari, and Tim Stark of Wildlife in Need—as exploiters and abusers who would do anything to keep the money coming in.


Ultimately, Tiger King focuses mostly on the battle between animal rights activist Carole Baskin (the CEO of accredited wildlife sanctuary Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida) and Joe Exotic. The series largely skips over serious issues of animal welfare, including the horrors of cub trafficking and the problems with commercial cub-petting attractions.

PETA’s Work to Help Animals at Roadside Zoos

PETA’s team of legal experts is always working hard on groundbreaking cases that are saving animals from abusive handlers. PETA is taking on the cruel cub-petting industry, and we are winning!


PETA’s Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit against Tim Stark (also featured in the series) and his roadside zoo, Wildlife in Need, led to the first-ever preliminary injunction preventing the premature separation of big-cat cubs from their mothers. The injunction also prohibits the use of cubs in public encounters and the declawing of cubs during the pendency of the litigation. G.W. Zoo’s Jeff Lowe is now a defendant in that suit as well.

PETA also just won a default judgment in a separate ESA lawsuit against Dade City’s Wild Things, another cub-petting operation that used to acquire tiger cubs from Joe Exotic. Thanks to PETA’s case, the operators of that roadside zoo can never own tigers again.

In total, PETA has rescued 73 bears, 43 tigers, 10 chimpanzees, two baboons, and one lion from roadside zoos and traveling shows in just the past eight years, and our work has shut down countless shady animal exhibitors.

What You Won’t See in Tiger King

In addition to his murder-for-hire conviction, Joe Exotic was found guilty of 17 counts of wildlife-related federal crimes, including killing five endangered tigers and trafficking in endangered animals.

In nature, tigers stay with their protective and nurturing mothers for up to two years, but tiger cubs used for photo ops are typically torn away from their mothers within days, hours, or even minutes after birth.

Baby big cats, just like baby humans, need the constant comfort of their mother. They need her milk, her warmth, and her companionship—and most of all, they need to be undisturbed so that they can rest when they need to and develop properly. These frightened, helpless infants are susceptible to many dangers, including not only physical abuse inflicted during public encounters but also cold and heat stress, malnutrition, exhaustion, and infectious diseases. These are all especially challenging for babies, since their immune systems aren’t yet fully developed.

Tiger King and PETA: Quotes

  • “PETA is unapologetic in its mission to help animals, and we’ve been targeting Joe Exotic for many, many years. I think that we can’t underestimate how dangerous some of these people are … Joe is always armed. There’s always a gun by his side.”
  • “Joe was public enemy number one for my department. But we went to the jail where he was held in Oklahoma, and we met with Joe and his attorneys for two days. He was able to share information with us about wildlife trafficking in the United States, the abuse of animals that’s going on behind the scenes by a lot of the players.”
  • “Joe told me that Doc Antle puts tiger cubs who’ve aged out of playtime events in a gas chamber to kill them and then he cremates their bodies in their on-site crematorium.”
  • “I think that Joe’s motivation in this case is revenge. He really wants to see a lot of other people in the big cat trade go down with him.”
  • “Once we start trying to shut a person down and end their abuse of animals, we don’t stop.”

How Big Cats Are Treated in Tiger King

(Note: Spoilers ahead)

PETA keeps detailed records of the abuse endured by animals at roadside zoos, including at the hands of Joe Exotic at G.W. Zoo. While watching Tiger King, you may notice scenes showing animals in distress:

  • Joe Exotic takes a baby cub from their mother almost immediately after birth.
  • Joe Exotic fires a gun near animals to scare them.
  • Several tigers are crammed into one crowded cage.
  • There are graphic descriptions of animal abuse, including of the manner in which Joe Exotic shot and killed five tigers.

In the series, Maldonado-Passage also blows up a dummy wearing a PETA hat.

Tiger King and PETA: Final Takeaways

By the end of the series, Joe Exotic seems to have a revelation, stating that he feels that he denied chimpanzees their right to be chimpanzees by holding them captive. Spending time in a jail cell led him to reflect that animals die when they’re held in cages because their souls die.

Remember: The abuse and neglect on display throughout Tiger King are par for the course whenever and wherever animals are used for entertainment.

Fun Facts About Tigers

Tigers enjoy bathing in rivers and lakes—yes, these are cats who love water. They are proudly introverted and prefer spending time on their own, except when there are cubs at home to raise. When tigers socialize, they’ll chuff (or blow short air bursts out of their nose) as a way to greet others.

Eager for even more inspiring animal stories and fascinating facts? Pick up Animalkind, the book that has readers and even celebrities like Anjelica Huston and Joaquin Phoenix raving.

What You Can Do to Help Lion and Tiger Cubs After Watching Tiger King

Never support businesses that offer cruel cub-petting experiences, wild-animal photo ops, or any other hands-on encounters with big-cat cubs. PETA makes it easy to take action for big cats abused in the entertainment industry. What are you waiting for? Get started now:
Take Rapid Action for Tigers
take action to help animals in roadside zoos

Note: PETA participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide websites with a means to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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