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Tiger King: Big Voices for Big Cats

Image courtesy of UNILAD

Netflix unleashed its newest success, Tiger King, on March 20, 2020. This true crime docuseries, created by filmmaker Eric Goode, follows the lives and drama of people who own tigers and roadside attraction zoos. While the series makes for great television with an intense rivalry, a murder for hire plot and the possibility of a murdered second husband, it fails to focus on the true victims: the cats and other exotic animals being exposed to neglect and abuse while in possession of these zoos. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “the world’s largest population of tigers exists not in the wild — but in captivity in the United States.” With an estimated 5,000 tigers in captivity in the U.S. alone, this population greatly exceeds the 3,200 tigers thought to be left in the wild. This is a fact the docuseries mentions but doesn't expand upon. According to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, a true sanctuary’s function is to provide lifetime care to animals that have been abused, neglected, discarded or are otherwise in need of help. A true sanctuary does not breed or allow the public to have hands-on interactions with these animals, and it maintains high standards of care and operation. Kitty Block, President and CEO of the Humane Society, states in a press release regarding Tiger King, that “facilities like Joe Exotic’s and Doc Antle’s masquerade as rescue or conservation operations, but in fact they breed tigers and subject the cubs, who are torn from their mothers immediately after birth, to stress and abuse.” The reasoning for this is explained by a December report from National Geographic: “As soon as a litter is born, the cubs are removed from the mother, making her go into heat sooner so she can breed again.” Even more upsetting are the implications in this docuseries that once these animals grow too large for these “petting parties,” they are killed. While the world is questioning the guilt of Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin, they have overlooked her advocacy for one of the biggest bills proposed to help cats in captivity, the Big Cat Public Safety Act. This act addresses two of the biggest sources of abuse for big cats by making ownership of big cats as pets illegal and stopping exploitive roadside zoos from offering cub petting and photo ops. The Big Cat Rescue had exciting news that “the House bill passed out of full Committee on Sept. 18, 2019. And as of Sept. 27, 2019, the Big Cat Public Safety Act has 138 cosponsors in the House!” The bill, according to the Animal Welfare Institute, would amend the Captive Wildlife Safety Act to fully ban the private possession of wild cats. Those who already own big cats would be grandfathered in and allowed to keep their cats, but they would still need to register their animals with their state’s government. Another major contender in this docuseries was People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Since the release of the series, PETA has released a response: “Baby big cats, just like baby humans, need the constant comfort of their mother. They need her milk, her warmth, and her companionship — and most of all, they need to be undisturbed so that they can rest when they need to and develop properly. These frightened, helpless infants are susceptible to many dangers, including not only physical abuse inflicted during public encounters but also cold and heat stress, malnutrition, exhaustion, and infectious diseases. These are all especially challenging for babies, since their immune systems aren’t yet fully developed.” While PETA has a troubled past, it is important that we acknowledge its involvement in the Tiger King series, since it was also a vital player and does offer accurate information beyond its often scandalous messaging. While the popularity of Tiger King continues to rise, we should turn our attention from the escapades of Joe Exotic, Doc Antle and Carole Baskin and instead focus on the hurt and injustices these animals have faced at the hands of those characters. By Rachel Van Horne, Staff Writer

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