‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’ has been a roaring success on Netflix, with it estimated that 34.3 million watched it in the first 10 days after it was released. The show focuses on Joe Exotic and his facility, GW Exotic Animal Park, in Oklahoma, US, which predominantly holds big cats. Throughout the programme his rival Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist who runs a sanctuary, was witnessed desperately trying to shut him down. She claimed that animal abuse went on at the park and was reported to have launched lawsuits totalling $2.5million (£2million) in a bid to end his operations. Joe, real name Joseph Maldonado Passage, was jailed for 22 years last year after he was found guilty of a failed murder for hire plot, animal cruelty, document forgery and other crimes. In the wake of the show’s popularity, many have looked into the conditions inside big cat facilities and debated whether they should be kept in captivity. One wildlife expert, who spoke to Express.co.uk, argued that they should not as they are not working towards conservation goals – as many parks claim – and are actually operating on a for-profit basis.
There is believed to be between 5,000 and 10,000 tigers being kept outside of registered zoos, in private ownership, in the US.
An exact figure is hard to find because owners are not forced to register big cats and equally there is no database either.
Of the total number of big cats in the US, fewer than 350 tigers are registered through The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which represent many zoos in the US and overseas.
As the public’s eye turns toward big cat ownership after the popular Netflix docu-series ‘Tiger King’ – Debbie Banks from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), reveals why many facilities appear to be focused on making profit.
She has been combating illegal activities involving big cats for more than two decades, and is a Wildlife Crime Campaign Leader with the EIA.
Joe Exotic, real name Joseph Maldonado Passage, was sentenced to 22 years in jail (Image: Netflix)
Ms Banks told Express.co.uk: “Breeding tigers in the US has zero conservation unless they are part of international stud books.
“It’s absolute nonsense, the tragedy is the number of people in the US who have been fooled by the idea that these facilities contribute to conservation.”
She explained many of the facilities claim to be serving the interests of increasing big cat numbers – but are