Carole baskin watched the Netflix documentary series King tiger like so many of us did: she choked on, devouring all seven episodes in one go as soon as it was released in March. “It was like watching a dumpster fire, you just couldn’t get away from it,” Baskin says in a video call. “It was fascinating that there could be so many crazy people doing so many horrible things to animals.”
Of course, one of the “crazy people,” the show implied, was her. Baskin, 59-year-old owner of the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Florida, had been told by the filmmakers that King tiger it would be a denunciation of the mistreatment of animals by private owners in America. Instead, the series focused primarily on a long-running feud between Baskin and Joseph Maldonado-Passage, an Oklahoma zoo owner, polygamist, and country music lover who calls himself “Joe Exotic.”
Maldonado-Passage, who ran for president of the United States in 2016, took his hatred for Baskin to outlandish extremes: In one video, he designed an inflatable doll like Baskin, put a dildo in his mouth and shot him in the head. She also accused Baskin of having killed her ex-husband, Don Lewis, who disappeared in 1997. One theory was that she had crushed his body, bones and everything, and fed his big cats.
“In the end,” he says, “I sat there with my [current] husband, looking at each other, like, ‘What was that?’ Such a missed opportunity. Because there was so much they could have shown people about the egregious abuse these animals suffer. Instead, they just glamorized this Oklahoma yahoo and tried to create a feud. I haven’t even talked to Joe Exotic. I’ve seen it in person, I think four times. “
Those meetings were primarily in court: In 2019, Maldonado-Passage was convicted of attempting to involve a hitman to kill Baskin, among other charges, and is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence.
King tiger was the television sensation of the early closure: 64 million households around the world watched it in the first month of its launch. “My phone started ringing and it rang every two minutes for three months straight,” says Baskin. “Every time I answered the phone, it was someone yelling threats and saying they wanted to kill me, they wanted to kill my family, they wanted to kill the cats. Our lives were just hell for the first three months. “
Everyone wanted to know: had Baskin killed Don Lewis? “Well, I’ve never been a suspect,” he responds patiently. “I have not even been a person of interest, according to the sheriff’s department. It has only been the animal abusers and those who received a megaphone and King tiger who had said otherwise. But I hope all the new attention on this gives us some clues that we didn’t get then. “
One might imagine that Baskin had endured a nightmare in 2020, but that would underestimate his resilience. He had an itinerant childhood, he moved 14 times before he was 13 years old. At 14, she was raped at knife point by three men after a girl she knew from church sold her virginity for drugs. “My daughter said, ‘If your life had a theme song, it would be Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down,'” says Baskin. “It has not been easy, but I would not change anything, not even the horrible tragedies.”
After King tiger – and with Big Cat Rescue having lost over $ 1 million in revenue due to Covid-19 – Baskin accepted an invitation to appear on Dancing With the Stars, the American version of Strictly Come to dance. She didn’t move naturally, coming out in the third week, but with her cat-themed songs (Eye of the Tiger, What’s New Pussycat?) And flashy animal-print costumes, she showed that she didn’t take herself too seriously. “It showed people that I’m willing to take on anything, regardless of how ill-equipped I am for it,” says Baskin. “And that I will do it with grace and good humor.”
In a surprise twist, Baskin could become a pop culture icon. Kim Kardashian West dressed up like her for Halloween. Meanwhile, Baskin’s signature look of tiger stripes and leopard spots, along with a Polynesian flower headdress, has also seen her heralded as an unlikely style pioneer, echoing Balenciaga’s spring / summer 2020 collections and Dolce and Gabbana. In October, Baskin casually announced that he had long considered himself bisexual. “Now everyone thinks my husband and I are going to have threesomes and it’s like, nooo!” she says. “We’ve been in a relationship for 18 years and the fact that he could go either way has nothing to do with my loyalty to him.”
However, the main reason for Baskin’s current optimism is that King tiger Regardless of his dubious intentions, the debate over big cats in America has erupted. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who appeared on the show with his harem, has recently been charged with wildlife trafficking, which he denies. Tim Stark and Jeff Lowe, two of the other memorable characters, have lost their licenses to have big cats. A federal bill to ban the handling of puppies and eliminate private property from big cats could be passed before the end of the year.
“That’s the silver lining for King tiger: People are finally talking about the real issues, ”says Baskin. “If they had made a documentary that showed all the suffering and abuse of these big cats, I don’t know if people would have seen it, shared it the way they did. But at least this opened the door and once I put my foot in that door it’s like, ‘And now you’re going to hear about cats!’ “
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.