Let’s all just say it now; oh, how the tables have turned! Countless memes have flooded social media comparing humans in quarantine to animals in zoos, but rest assured us humans have it better. For one, we’re kept busy by our gadgets and endless content on the world wide web. During times of isolation such as these, us humans still have the luxury of flicking through films and infinite episodes, and lately, the number one series reigning supreme is none other than Netflix’s “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness”.
From Caring for to Cashing in on Big Cats
The title character, Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage (a.k.a. Joe Exotic) undoubtedly had much humbler yet miserable beginnings. Showing affection to animals was means of escapism from his traumas and sorrows; his G.W. Zoo was established in loving memory of his deceased brother, and at first, was all about accommodating rescued exotic animals. However, as you’ll then realize, the prospect of financial gain caught up to Exotic and his actions were no more about the welfare of the animals but more about boosting his celebrity image.
His somewhat theatrical, outspoken demeanour lured audiences into getting to know the drama-filled (and often violent) world of roadside zoos. These establishments offer a quick stop for people on road trips, providing interactive experiences with wild animals. In a way, these zoos are also a form of human exploitation, making the most out of biophilia; the desire within humans to form emotional connections with non-human living creatures. It’s no wonder there are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild; humans deep down are indeed in the total fascination of wild animals. However, that still doesn’t make it ethically and morally sound to deprive wild animals of a much more suitable life in the wild.
“The Joe Show”
Sadly, each episode seems to stray further away from its potentially essential message about animals and heads towards becoming a more sensationalist series on the human ego. Sure, the drama of an alleged murder attempt, cults, and battles between business competitors can be thrilling to follow throughout the series, but are we just going to ignore what’s happening in the background? What about the mistreatment of the animals (confinement, crossbreeding, cub-petting)?
In one of the episodes, Exotic admittingly says he was too “wrapped up in having a zoo” to notice what he’d put the animals through for two decades. Though it may not have been intentional, Exotic has been found guilty of animal abuse based on the Endangered Species Act, which he will serve 22 years in prison for. This powerful feeling of being able to control wild animals can be considered a form of narcissism. In the series, when you listen carefully to the zoo owners, they all give out the impression that they’re “helping the helpless”, be it in regard to the animals or the people working in the zoos themselves. It’s no wonder, in the end, they all had it out for each other; narcissists strive to be the best, no matter the cost.
At the end of the series, it’s portrayed that even though he’s still in prison, Exotic is back on the hunt, only this time his prey is on his competitors. He’s even teamed up with what would have been the most unlikely of partners, PETA. Though this seems like excellent news, PETA US’ Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, Brittany Peet, still feels that his intentions are mostly based on revenge instead of pure concern for the wellbeing of the animals. However, as long as it’s a step into the right direction of wild animals being rescued, that’s all that matters to her.
So, whether you’ve binge-watched it or not, you’ve got to admit the Tiger King docu-series has caused quite the (up)roar. The underbelly of what was considered a harmless pastime of visiting and interacting with wild animals has been exposed to millions. It teaches us that when it comes to animals, acting on fascination alone can lead down a dangerous path towards exploitation. So how to help stop this vicious cycle of wild animal captivity? Simply never visit zoos and partake in wild animal interaction. Instead, research on how you can help wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation parks who accommodate rescued animals!