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Netflix series ‘Tiger King’ exposes Joe Exotic, tiger breeding scheme

The Netflix docuseries “Tiger King” has enough drama to rival a trailer park version of “Dynasty.”

The title character is a 57-year-old, proud “gun-toting gay redneck,” but instead of investing in oil, he makes his cash on breeding tigers at his controversial Oklahoma roadside zoo and using the cubs as pay-for-play props.

Joe Exotic

Joe Schreibvogel, the self-appointed “Tiger King” who has crowned himself “Joe Exotic,” charges admission to the slack-jawed yokels who visit his zoo and are desperate to take selfies with the exploited cubs.

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Exotic also, to nobody’s surprise, also has a messy personal life.

The seven-part Netflix series, which was filmed from 2014 to 2020, follows all the melodrama: Exotic’s same-sex marriages, including polygamy; Carole Baskin, a tiger breeder turned activist trying to run Exotic out of business; a murder-for-hire plot to kill Baskin, and Exotic’s mullet.

Tiger King Joe Exotic Gay Marriage

Joe Exotic, wearing black cowboy hat in pink shirt, married John Finlay (far right) and Travis Maldonado (second from left) in 2014. Photo: Netflix.

Troubled relationships

Exotic’s first boyfriend that viewers meet is John Finlay, who is interviewed in the series. Exotic meets Finlay when he gets a job at the zoo.

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After numerous attempts to open up their relationship to a third person (as Finlay discusses early in the series), they form a threesome with Travis Maldonado, another much younger and troubled worker at the zoo. The three marry in 2014 and part of the ceremony is shown in “Tiger King.”

Maldonado and Exotic eventually remarry as a twosome when Finlay gets a fellow worker at the animal park pregnant and leaves the marriage.

Maldonado dies in 2017. His suicide is explained in the series.

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Tiger King Convicted Arrested

Joe Schreibvogel, aka “Joe Exotic,” was convicted April 2, 2019, on two counts of murder-for-hire, eight violations of The Lacey Act and nine violations of the Endangered Species Act. On January 22, 2020, he was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison. Photo: Santa Rosa County Jail.

Another husband

Two months after Maldonado’s death, Exotic marries Dillon Passage, who also is several decades younger than Exotic and slept on an airbed in his cousin’s house at the time of their first date. Passage and Exotic marry in December 2017, leave the zoo together, and are together when Exotic is arrested in 2018.

Tigers, cubs

But the darkest and saddest part about “Tiger King” is the big cats, cubs, and other animals housed at the zoo. Exotic claims to love them and blah, blah, blah. In one scene, however, a mother tiger gives birth to a cub, and Exotic pulls the cub like a rag doll away from their mother, exposing his true feelings, or lack thereof, for the majestic animals. He puts the cub in a box with another cub. Both of the cubs cry relentlessly. Exotic says, “They make a lot of noise.”

It’s gross and heartbreaking.

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On the bright side, Exotic was convicted April 2, 2019, of two counts of murder-for-hire, eight violations of The Lacey Act and nine violations of the Endangered Species Act.

On January 22, 2020, he was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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