Anyone who has watched Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness has been exposed to the abusive and deadly underworld of the cub-petting industry and the exotic-animal exhibitors – including Joseph Maldonado-Passage (aka “Joe Exotic”), Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, Tim Stark, and Jeff Lowe – who make it go round. What you won’t see on Tiger King, however, is that before Joe Exotic fled The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (aka “GW Zoo”), PETA US helped rescue 39 tigers, three bears, two baboons, and two chimpanzees from the hellhole roadside zoo. All 46 animals are now thriving at reputable sanctuaries.
Mo, pictured above, was among the 39 tigers PETA US rescued from Joe Exotic’s custody, as were Curly …
… and Pearl, who had been shipped to Dade City’s Wild Things (DCWT) from a roadside zoo when she was just weeks old.
Pearl was one of 19 tigers DCWT sent on a deadly 18-hour trip to Joe Exotic in violation of two court orders. The gruelling transport took place in the heat of summer, and the animals were confined to a metal trailer with no climate control or drinking water – a cruel stunt resulting in the deaths of three cubs who were born and died en route.
Years of effort – including a PETA US eyewitness investigation and legal action – finally resulted in the rescue of Mo, Curly, Pearl, and their big-cat comrades. Now, instead of pacing restlessly inside a cramped, barren chain-link cage as he did at GW Zoo, Mo runs and explores his spacious habitat and basks in the sunshine at The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
“It’s not about the Netflix film, it’s not about anything other than we are trying to give [the tigers] the best life possible,” said Becca Miceli, the chief science and welfare officer at The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
The tigers were rescued in two waves. First, 19 tigers were removed from GW Zoo after sleazy roadside zoo DCWT transferred them there to thwart a court-ordered site inspection. Thanks in part to PETA US’ legal team, DCWT was barred from having tigers ever again, so it can no longer shove those like Luna (who was bred by Joe Exotic) into pools for photo ops – and in even better news, it has reportedly closed its doors for good.
The second group of 20 tigers was rescued as a result of direct negotiations between PETA US and Joe Exotic. Some of them had been sent to him by Stark, who operates a roadside zoo called Wildlife in Need. These 20 were fortunate – as alluded to in Tiger King, tigers such as these are eventually discarded by the cub-petting industry for being “useless“.
GW Zoo bred more than just tigers for profit – baboons and other exotic animals were churned out there, too.
Along with the 39 tigers, PETA US helped rescue three bears from a trash heap–like enclosure at GW Zoo and transfer them to The Wild Animal Sanctuary. Joe Exotic had acquired the bears from Stark, too.
Two chimpanzees – Joe and Bo – were also rescued from GW Zoo and transferred to the care of PETA US’ friends at the Center for Great Apes, another accredited sanctuary. Before their rescue, both were used as breeders and exploited in other ways for human entertainment.
In Tiger King, Joe Exotic admitted to his cruel treatment of these chimpanzees.
He said that they had lived in cages next to each other for a decade but didn’t have full social access to one another. They had each been housed with females they also bred with – Joe was kept with a chimpanzee named Lilly, while Bo was kept with a chimpanzee named Bongo. Both Lilly and Bongo died at GW Zoo.
When Joe and Bo (pictured above in his new home) arrived at the Center for Great Apes, they quickly became friends and were finally able to live in lush, enriching habitats, which they’d been denied for decades.
Chimpanzees are a lot like humans. They love slapstick humour, pretending to fall themselves if another chimpanzee falls off a rock (as long as they don’t seem hurt). What they surely don’t find funny, though, is being exploited for entertainment.
Baboons Markus and Luna were also rescued and moved to Peaceable Primate Sanctuary. Joe Exotic repeatedly bred them while they were at GW Zoo and sold their babies into the cruel pet trade. True sanctuaries, like the one they now call home, never allow animals to breed, and Markus and Luna are enjoying their retirement!
With your help, we can secure more victories for animals. Our friends at PETA US continue to work to free the remaining animals from GW Zoo, and we urge everyone not to support abusive animal shows or exhibits in India or anywhere else.