comScore Will Tiger King Inspire Reform for Big Cats in Captivity? | The Mary Sue
Skip to main content

Will Tiger King Inspire Actual Reform for Big Cats in Captivity?


Carole Baskin in Tiger King

We were drawn in by the bonkers personalities on Tiger King, from gay, gun-toting, tiger-hoarding Joe Exotic, to pompous feline (possible) sex cult leader Doc Antle, to seemingly moral crusader for animals who may have fed her husband to a tiger, Carole Baskin. The show was chock-full of personalities, but some victims of the series got less attention: the animals.

One of the most affecting moments of Tiger King comes towards the end, were Saff, the worker at Joe Exotic’s zoo who lost his arm to a tiger, laments that no one in the weird, wild world of big cats actually cares about the animals they collect and keep captive, and that’s incredibly clear from the series. Most of the exotic animal collectors do it for the money and the sense of power that comes from owning these majestic creatures, but no one really seems to want to help them. Even Baskin, who portrays herself as a crusader for the cats, comes off bad in the end and it’s tragic.

But by participating in the series, these cat collectors may have done more for the cats than ever before by bringing real attention to the cause that Baskin was lobbying for: the passage of the Big Cat Safety Act. The proposed law first got traction in 2019, as seen in the series when Carole Baskin visited congress in her leopard print Sunday best to lobby for it. But it hasn’t yet been passed, thanks to many factors including the ineptitude of congress and Doc Antle showing up with tiger cubs for senators to pet.

With the attention from Tiger King, however, the act is getting new attention as celebrities such as Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Glenn Close, Alan Cumming, and more have signed on to an open letter drafted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, urging passage of the act. The letter and campaign are being spearheaded by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of another exposé of animal cruelty, Blackfish.

The letter reads in part:

Tigers and other big cats are apex predators who have complex physical and psychological needs and desires. Depriving them of expressing their natural instincts is inhumane. Keeping big cats in captivity in private homes or small cages creates an enormous public safety threat should these animals ever get loose.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act prohibits the private ownership of big cats, direct public contact, and dangerous public interactions with big cats such as cub petting. We hope you will support this commonsense bill without delay.

The passage of this act could mean big changes for people like Joe Exotic or others that keep and sell big cats, and stop them from doing terrible things like snatching cubs from their mothers as soon as they are born. But even with this attention, it might be a while before passage. Congress has a lot on its plate right now, even working semi-remotely, so expectations should stay low.

Then again, if congressmen and senators are anything like us, they probably have watched Tiger King too and maybe that will be enough to get them to act.

(via: Variety; Image: Netflix)

Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.