To say we’re grateful for Tiger King in times like these would be an understatement.
The Netflix docu-series weaves the absurd and at times unbelievable story of Joe Exotic, an exotic animal zookeeper whose feud with fellow big cat enthusiast Carole Baskin comes to a dramatic climax when the FBI begins investigating whether or not Joe took out a hit on his similarly eccentric rival.
Between Joe’s descent into what those closest to him described as insanity, filmmakers introduce a cast of characters with their own stories just as unique as the tiger king himself.
If you’ve already binged the seven-part series, you know how the saga ends. But where are Joe’s former employees and other controversial figures from Tiger King now, and how do they really feel about their on-screen portrayal?
Find out below:
The 57-year-old, whose legal name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is currently serving out a 22-year prison sentence for orchestrating a murder-for-hire plot against Carole Baskin and violating several wildlife laws. He admitted to euthanizing five tigers on the grounds of his Greater Wynnewood Zoo in Oklahoma, but claimed it was because they were “in pain.”
Joe recently spoke to Netflix from behind bars and said he feels “ashamed” of his actions. “I’m done with the Carole Baskin saga. It’s now time to turn the tables and get Joe out of jail a free man and exonerated from all these charges,” he said. Tiger King filmmakers have also said that Joe would like either Brad Pitt or David Spade to portray him in the scripted adaptation of his life.
Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times via AP
Carole and her husband, Howard Baskin, continue to run Big Cat Rescue, their purported animal sanctuary in Florida. She has, however, slammed the Netflix series as “salacious” and “sensational,” going as far to refute the speculation about her involvement in the unsolved disappearance of her second husband, Jack “Don” Lewis, in a lengthy blog post.
“The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims,” Baskin wrote. “They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.”
In response to resurged interest in the cold case, authorities are seeking new leads from the public.
Bhagavan "Doc" Antle
The cult-like figure and his Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species in South Carolina drew just as much fascination and horror as Joe Exotic among viewers. Since Tiger King‘s release, Antle has rejected all allegations of illegal animal euthanasia and dismissed one former employee’s claim that he has a “harem of wives” living on the zoo’s compound.
“That’s fresh,” he told Vanity Fair. “I’ve got people popping out of the woodwork, welders, contractors, and people I’ve paid millions of dollars to, to enrich my facility… They know us so well… and not a soul ever imagined that there is a cult going on here. There are a lot of cute girls here, because the conservation movement does draw in cute girls. But those cute girls have nothing to do with this old fat guy running the place.”
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Following Joe’s conviction, the shady Las Vegas businessman and his wife took over operations for the G.W. Zoo. During a recent appearance on Lights Out With David Spade, Lowe confirmed that despite financial strain, they still have plans to move the animals to a new 55-acre facility in Oklahoma this summer.
As for Lowe’s reaction to Tiger King, he said, “[Director Eric Goode] made us look like sluts but it’s really helping us get laid, so it worked out OK that way.”
Joe Exotic and his fourth husband were only married eight months at the time of his 2018 arrest, but the 24-year-old has remained loyal to the former exotic animal keeper and said he has “no regrets” about their relationship.
In fact, Passage credits Joe as the reason he kicked an addiction to prescription pills. As he explained to Variety, “Joe helped me get healthy again, get me in the right mental state. I felt alone. I felt like there was going to be nobody there for me. Joe made me feel like there was reason to be alive.”
Passage now works as a bartender in western Florida.
Finlay was just 19 when Joe hired him to work at the zoo in 2003. A decade later, they wed in an unofficial three-way ceremony with Travis Maldonado, who died from an accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2017. According to Texas Monthly, their relationship ended in 2014, when Finlay was arrested and charged with assault after allegedly attacking Joe in the zoo’s parking lot.
He’s since made a new life for himself, complete with a shiny set of teeth. Finlay recently told TMZ that he’s working as a welder in Oklahoma, engaged to a woman and six years sober from drugs. Meanwhile, he wants Channing Tatum or Shia LaBeouf to play him in the upcoming miniseries.
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Even after losing part of his arm in a tiger attack, Saffery stayed on as the G.W. Zoo’s manager through 2018. Saffery told Esquire that he recently relocated to California, and now works a “clock in, clock out job.”
“I invested so much blood, sweat, and tears into that place, and for my own health and sanity, I needed to take a break,” he explained. “Those colleagues—and those were friends in the deepest meaning of the word—and I would love to reconnect. But I would also love to find myself first.”
Cowie, who worked as the head zookeeper for five years, was called to testify at Joe’s trial, where he alleged that older tigers were often shot and killed by Joe to free up space for new animals. “We needed three cages. He wiped out five cats,” he told local reporters at the time. “He came up a 4-10 in his hand and I knew he just shot Cuddles. I heard it, and he comes up the hill and goes… ‘If I knew it was going to be this easy to just walk right up the cage, I was just going to kill them all.'”
Filmmakers followed Cowie as he left the zoo and began working as a cook at an Oklahoma restaurant. He has yet to comment publicly on the Netflix series.
Reinke worked at the zoo for several years up until Joe’s arrest and Lowe took over the operation. Nowadays, he’s primarily focused on another lifelong passion completely unrelated to animals: car racing. Reinke told Speed51 that he now lives in Texas and co-owns two racetracks while also working as a mechanic.
“I have not talked to Joe since he’s been incarcerated,” he shared on Lights Out With David Spade. “Not because I hate Joe. I got to love the guy. I was there for 14 years… We just built a bond and I knew that if I called him while he was incarcerated, he wouldn’t shut his mouth.”
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After losing all the footage he planned to use in a reality TV series about Joe in an arson fire (the origin of which is still unknown), Kirkham moved back to Texas and suffered what he described to the Tiger King filmmakers as a nervous breakdown. Kirkham, who according to his Facebook now lives in Norway and works as a freelance reporter, has recently claimed that he shot footage of Joe killing the zoo’s animals prior to the fire.
“Joe was a surreal, one-of-a-kind figure—a very, very evil guy at heart, but also very lost, and I think that is why you almost feel sorry for him in the documentary series at some point. Believe me, there is nothing there to feel sorry about. He was a very evil guy to the animals and the people that worked for him,” Kirkham told Extra.
After serving as Joe’s campaign manager during his failed run for governor of Oklahoma, Dial cut all ties with the controversial figure.
“I have tried to move on, and I have been successful so far. I was given a new life and a second chance when I met my fiancé; I have no desire to bring any of that pain into my life,” he told Oxygen.com, referencing the shooting death of Maldonado, which he witnessed. Dial explained, “I have a hard time sitting in offices now, I think it’s related to how Travis killed himself in the office at the zoo. So I really don’t know which line of work I’d like to go in.”
The former strip club owner played a major role in Joe’s arrest by acting as a confidential informant for the FBI. In a recent interview with Australian radio show Carly & Seamus, Garretson said he’s faced backlash for his role in Joe’s demise.
As he put it, “It comes down to Joe was killing a lot of animals so people can call me whatever they want to call me. I feel I did the right thing. If you’re an animal lover, you’re not going to call me a snitch.”
He now lives in south Florida and operates a jet ski business.
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Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is available to stream on Netflix.
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