The first hint that Netflix’s breakout hit Tiger King is not your normal documentary comes less than 10 seconds into the first episode. “The monkey people are a little bit different,” says an unidentified man. “They’re kind of strange. But the big-cat people are backstabbing pieces of shit.” He’s referring to (among others) the Tiger King himself, also known as Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, the former owner of Oklahoma’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, which Joe once claimed was the world’s largest private park for tigers.
The story has more plot twists than the entire run of Days of Our Lives: Joe Exotic owns a big-cat zoo. Carol Baskin of Big Cat Rescue wants to shut him down. She’s got big cats, too, but in an accredited sanctuary. Which is arguably a better business model: Exotic doesn’t pay well, but he does pay something, even providing a kind of squalor-cum-room-and-board. Baskin’s sanctuary is staffed, in large part, by volunteers.There’s a death threat, double-dealing of every sort, and a lot of traveling this way and that on the Tiger Belt that somehow runs between Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, South Florida, and Oklahoma. There’s even an elephant in it. And it all adds up to a most delightful diversion from the elephant in the room of our lives.