Aside from the global coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effects around the world, the only other thing my brain has the capacity to think about right now is Netflix's Tiger King. The new docuseries exposes the dark world of exotic animal ownership and its most notorious players — in particular, Joe "Exotic" Maldonado-Passage: big cat breeder, purveyor of "Tiger King" underwear, and former owner of the G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, OK, who also currently happens to be serving 22 years in prison for plotting a murder-for-hire (which was ultimately foiled). The intended target? Carole Baskin, animal rights activist and Joe Exotic's public enemy number one.
For years, Baskin, who is the founder of Big Cat Rescue, a big cat sanctuary in Tampa, FL, has made it her mission to end big cat ownership across the world. This is the basis of Maldonado-Passage's vendetta against her, which spurred a years-long feud full of lawsuits, propaganda, and rage-fueled vlogs between the two of them, and ultimately escalated to the point of Maldonado-Passage hatching a $3,000 ploy to have Baskin killed. Among his many frustrations with Baskin: before Big Cat Rescue, Baskin also bred big cats, and even now, profits off the animals in her sanctuary by charging visitors. Between this, her $1 million trademark infringement lawsuit against Maldonado-Passage, and the assets Baskin inherited decades ago when her second husband Don Lewis disappeared mysteriously, the animal rights activist is thought to have a lot of money. Just how much? We've done a bit of investigating in the hopes of finding out.
Baskin's late husband, who disappeared under uncertain — and quite dubious — circumstances, was said to have been a multi-millionaire whose assets mostly fell to Baskin following his disappearance, leaving his daughters with a small leftover sum. But in a blog post on the Big Cat Rescue site, Baskin refutes many of these claims and insinuations from the docuseries. In regards to her late husband Don Lewis's wealth, Baskin asserts that his pockets were not nearly as deep when she first met him as they were portrayed to be in the docuseries. But once married, Baskin explains, they got into the business of " buying defaulted loans from banks and going to tax deed sales," which they built into a portfolio valued at approximately $5 million (£4,030,025) by the time Lewis disappeared.
She also states that after Lewis's disappearance, his daughters came away with assets worth approximately $1 million (£806,520), which contradicts the claim they make in the series that the inheritance was only roughly 10% of their late father's fortune. Baskin also writes in the blog post that she inherited $2 million (£1,613,040) in assets from a different trust, and that she did not choose which assets Lewis's daughters received, as they allege in the series.
While we can't know for certain, what's true across the board is that all of players in Tiger King have amassed big earnings from big cats — and that apparently there are a lot more wild animals lurking in our neighbour's backyards than we may have realised.