Finally breaking away from the drama that Netflix’s “Tiger King” and “Tiger King 2” presented, Carole Baskin has embarked on her own path to bring awareness to the mistreatment of tigers and cubs in captivity through her docuseries, “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” on Discovery Plus.
Feeling misled after five years of filming for “Tiger King,” Baskin believes her show puts the attention where it should be: on the animals instead of on the controversial characters that Netflix spotlighted.
Baskin has worked for decades to eliminate cub petting and illegal ownership of big cats. In 2015, through Big Cat Rescue, she began campaigning for the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in December 2020, but it did not go to a floor vote in the Senate. The bipartisan bill, which would prohibit ownership of big cats and makes it illegal for exhibitors to allow public contact with cubs, was reintroduced in the Senate in April 2021, but no further action has been taken.
Zenger recently spoke to Baskin to discuss “Tiger King’s” missed opportunity, and why she thinks the “rivalry” between her and Joe Exotic is dead.
Percy Crawford interviewed Carole Baskin for Zenger.
Zenger: How are you doing?
Baskin: I’m doing great.
Zenger: Your life has changed tremendously over the last two to three years. Do you have any regrets?
Baskin: I’ve been doing the same work that I’ve always been doing for the last 20 years. It’s only because of “Tiger King” that people have heard about what’s been going on, and they of course got a totally wrong perception of who I am and what I’m doing. But at least it’s given me the opportunity to come on platforms like yours to talk about the fact that we are going to lose the tiger in the next five years if we don’t stop the cub petting and the private ownership. It’s been worthwhile in that respect.
Zenger: I wanted to touch on that. I’m sure this has been very stressful for you, but given the fact that these animal abusers have been exposed, I’m sure it has been worth it for you.
Baskin: It has, because the biggest problem that we faced were, people were paying to pet these cubs, or paying to walk with juvenile lions or tigers, or to have their pictures taken with them, whether they are babies or semi-adults. They didn’t understand that none of those animals in captivity were ever going to be set free. Once they were no longer usable which is usually by 12 to 16 weeks, then they were going to be confined to a miserable little jail cell for the rest of their lives. And if people knew better, they wouldn’t participate in that. But they didn’t know better because these guys were really good con men.
Zenger: I watched a video, and you were shocked that you were villainized after the smoke cleared from “Tiger King,” given you were doing what was right for these tigers. How frustrating has that been?
Baskin: Yeah, it’s been amazing. I couldn’t believe that people would believe something they saw on a television show without doing five minutes’ worth of research. But it was a real wake-up call to me that people are moved by what they see on television or hear in the news. They don’t care enough to look into it and find out that they’ve been lied to as a result of not only this, but years ago dealing with the press. I don’t watch the news or read the newspaper because I know it’s all lies. It’s whatever they can get to get people’s attention because they have ad spots to sell.
Zenger: You obviously know there are a lot of negative things out there about you. Do you ever search your name to see some of these things, or do you stay away from that?
Baskin: I do go… usually every day, I will search my name and pull down all of the reports and save them into a file on my hard drive. I don’t read them because I don’t believe them, but at some point if I have a lawsuit going, and I need to sue the people for slandering my name, I got all of that information gathered.
Zenger: I know you can’t speak directly about the pending lawsuit you have against Netflix, particularly for “Tiger King 2.” You didn’t like the way things played out, and you felt very misled. How unfortunate was that because you went in thinking it was something else?
Baskin: Well, I think it was a huge, missed opportunity. We worked with them for five years, because they said they would be working on what would be “Blackfish” for big cats. When people saw “Blackfish,” they stopped going to Sea World. They stopped paying to see these orcas and dolphins doing tricks. They stopped because they saw how cruel it was. So, for five years we thought we were working with responsible, legitimate people who were going to show people just how horrible this cub petting is, so that they would never participate in it.
Instead, I feel like the animals were kind of a side plot. They focused on all these crazy characters, but not on the real issues of all of the suffering that’s being caused because of people paying to pet these cubs. So, it was really disappointing to me that they wasted so much of my time, and so much opportunity just for making money, and making something that was entertaining to people. That was frustrating.
Zenger: How important and refreshing is it for you to have “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight,” which you could tell that you have a lot more creative influence on?
Baskin: “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” is the work that we’ve been doing for decades. And for many years, producers have come to us and said they want to do a show about Big Cat Rescue and all the rescues we do here at the sanctuary, and of course the work that we are doing trying to end the abuse.
People saw in “Tiger King,” that there were a couple of hitmen… or that somebody had hired a couple of hitmen, one of them being an FBI agent [hired by Joe Exotic, for which he got 22 years in prison] to kill me, but they didn’t know that there were just years of these people threatening me and constantly harassing me, sometimes physically attacking me, doing things to our vehicles to make the tires blow out on the highway when we had a bunch of interns in the car. All of those things were things nobody got to see on “Tiger King” because if they had, they wouldn’t have been so sympathetic toward Joe Exotic.
Because of all the controversy surrounding me, big networks always said that I was too controversial. And they never did show the work that we do until “Tiger King” came out. I think they saw, as controversial as that was, it sold. So, “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” finally got sold, and it is the same kind of work we have always done, so I’m hoping that we will be able to do more episodes if people will just subscribe to Discovery Plus and watch it. I think they will be entertained.
Zenger: You seem like a strong woman who is not easily deterred. Do you feel safe, though?
Baskin: (Laughing). Heck no! I would be an idiot if I thought I was safe.
Zenger: These threats hope to put you off your mission. Has that been effective to a degree, or are you still 100 percent committed to the cause?
Baskin: The more these people come after me and the more they amp up their game, the more determined I am to expose them for the abusers that they are, and to end this industry. They’re preying on people who love big cats. They’re telling people, “You can pet this cub, and it’s only going to cost you $20. You’re saving them for future generations because we’re breeding lots of them,” and people want to believe that. And they are breeding lots of them, but they’re not going free, and they never can go free. It’s not legal to release a captive born big cat into the wild.
So, all of these people who love big cats would never participate in these egregious practices if they knew the end result is this cat is going to either die from malnutrition and the poor handling that they get, or it’s going to end up in a jail cell its whole life, or it’s going to be cut up for its teeth, its claws and its skin. Which is what people can see on “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight.” We were digging up the evidence of that.
Zenger: Is it flattering to you or a bit too much when you see drinks, dances and sandwiches named after you?
Baskin: I was excited yesterday because I was working on a rap song with a guy about the horrors of cub petting. It is such a catchy tune that this guy is writing. You will be singing along with it, and then you realize you are singing this song and burning it into your mind at the same time, that all of these poor cubs are suffering in this horrible industry, while you’re getting enjoyment out of this rap song, which otherwise is really entertaining. So, I love that I have the opportunity to do some things like that.
As far as people just like naming things after me, that’s weird. It’s not about me, and it shouldn’t be about me, it should be about the tigers.
Zenger: What goals do you have lined up for this year?
Baskin: I am closing in on one of my biggest goals, and that is to pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act. I’ve been trying to pass this since 1998. We got part of it done in 2003, and it really cut back on the number of big cats that were being abused and discarded. … I’m actually going back to [Washington] D.C. next week to hammer in on all of the senators and their aids to say, “You need to be on this because you want to be on the right side of history with this.” I think we can get it to a hearing this year, and actually end the cub petting, and phase out the private ownership. People who have them can keep them, they just can’t buy or breed more. And then we have a chance at saving these cats in the wild.
Zenger: Good luck with that. Do you feel like the Carole Baskin–Joe Exotic rivalry or feud is now over?
Baskin: I think people are bored of it by now. I think the fact that hardly anybody watched, “Tiger King 2” (laughing) was evidence of that. The people have just seen enough of that. And the whole idea that there is a feud between Joe, and I is ridiculous. I’ve never even spoken to him. It’s been my husband that’s been dealing with him all these years.
Zenger: You have been called everything under the sun, including a murderer. Yet, you smile through it all. Where does that strength come from to continue your fight despite the negative press you have received?
Baskin: I believe that we are eternal. And I believe that we are all connected, and everything that happens is happening for the good of us all. Even when something like COVID hits, I sat back like everybody else, I was rocked back on my heels by COVID. But I started looking at it like, “OK, what is the good that is coming out of this? It wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t leading us to a higher level of enlightenment.” And I think it has. It’s made us appreciate our loved ones more, especially our elderly, who we have totally ignored in our past few generations.
And I think it has pushed technology forward at least 15 years, because we had to figure out how to do things remotely. I think all of those things will ultimately save the cat in the wild and save this planet.
It’s probably too much to go into with the time that we have here, but I think that the way we save these cats in the wild is to monetize them in the wild. To have live-streaming webcams of these cats doing what they do in nature, and we all pay to see that, either on our phones or in our headsets, where we’re actually in the scene. But the money from that can go directly back into the wallets of the people who are living next to those cats, so they all become game wardens.
If you’re protecting all of that habitat, to protect those cats, so that you’re making the money that you need to make, we all benefit from clean air from those forests, fresh water from those ponds and streams that come through those areas. We all need to do this, and I think we are on that path.
Edited by Judith Isacoff and Kristen Butler
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