Beleaguered zoo owner Joe Exotic, subject of Netflix’s hit documentary series Tiger King, has now suffered the indignity of rival Carole Baskin gaining control of what was once his zoo. Baskin, a self-styled conservationist and owner of the Big Cat Rescue facility in Hillsborough County, Florida, has been given control of the Wynnewood, Oklahoma premises by courts, after Exotic failed to pay her $1m in copyright and trademark suits.
Exotic – real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage – is currently in prison, having been found guilty of 17 counts of animal abuse and a murder-for-hire plot against Baskin, and sentenced to 22 years.
Until the judgment, the zoo was owned by Jeff Lowe, a rival turned business associate, and Maldonado-Passage’s mother, Shirley Schreibvogel. Baskin sued, claiming that the zoo had been fraudulently transferred to the pair to avoid it being seized by Maldonado-Passage’s creditors, herself included, a claim upheld in court. Baskin had also previously sued Maldonado-Passage for trademark and copyright infringement for use of her company’s logo and images.
According to court documents, Lowe has 120 days to vacate the zoo, which he had renamed Tiger King Park, and to remove all animals.
Subtitled Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Tiger King has been a huge hit for Netflix since its release in March, with the notoriously cagey streaming giant revealing in April that the show had been watched by 64m households. The stranger-than-fiction series also made cult figures of Maldonado-Passage and Baskin, who has been subject to an array of unsubstantiated claims that she murdered her husband Jack “Don” Lewis, and fed him to her beloved big cats – accusations Baskin denied in the show. Such is the cultural impact of the series, Nicolas Cage has been signed up to portray Maldonado-Passage in an upcoming TV miniseries.
While Maldonado-Passage is unlikely to be happy with the decision, Lowe remains nonplussed, with he and his wife Lauren telling US gossip site TMZ that they had “long anticipated that the judge would eventually undo the 2016 land transfer. We are thankful that he dragged out his decision this long and allowed us time to complete the new Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma, behind the world’s largest casino.”