Just past the middle of March, Greenville County and the Upstate of South Carolina began what is now known as social distancing and quarantine and a new way of life. School stopped, restaurants went to curbside, delivery, and take-out only, and non-essential businesses began shutting down along with parks, trails, and events. Some of us began working from home while others were furloughed or laid off of work. So, when we weren’t adjusting to homeschooling and being around our kids and loved ones 24/7, we were binge watching on TV. One of those gems of binge watching and getting us through at least one week of quarantine was the Netflix docuseries, “The Tiger King”.
So, with so many options on cable, streaming, and online, what exactly appealed to most of us in Greenville, SC and the rest of the country with “The Tiger King”? How entertaining could the lives of big cat tiger owners actually be? How could they make even more than one episode on this topic? Well, it turns out that there’s a whole world out there that most of us didn’t even know about….until COVID-19 hit. Now we know, so let’s dive into why.
First, who doesn’t like cute baby tiger cubs? They are what brings in thousands of visitors a year to these big cat zoos. You pet them, cuddle with them, and even get your picture taken with them. While there you may also get to see other animals like bears, chimpanzees, wolves, and elephants to name a few. The tiger cubs though were by far the biggest draw. Even as they grow older they are beautiful creatures to look at from afar. The combination of their beauty and their ferociousness are a thing to behold. Maybe it reminds us of how our own human nature can be.
Next, we have the crazy cast of characters that make up the Tiger World. Who knew? We have the erratic, gun toting, loud mouth, heavily tattooed, part-time lip-syncing country music artist, drug addict, Presidential/Governor hopeful, and gay tiger owner with young male companions (I believe I covered it all), Joe Exotic. Then there was Doc Antle who seemed rather tame after getting to know Joe. However, he also liked wrangling in young companions and kept a harem around him. While some appreciated what appeared to be a good conservation side to him, there are questions as to what he did with those tigers once they got out of the cute “cub” phase. We also have Carole who makes up the last third of the big cat owners in the docuseries. Although Carole comes across as being a true Conservationist with tigers, we learn by Episode 3 that she’s allegedly a cold-blooded killer who may have killed her last husband. She has the animal rights and PETA people on her side, but she’s one you need to keep one eye open on.
While the three main cat owners made up the majority of the docuseries, there were also plenty of other entertaining employees who had plenty of baggage, past run-ins with the law, and drama. Jeff Lowe and James Garretson from Vegas decided to invest and “help” Joe, but ultimately turned on him before turning on each other. You have Joe’s young boy toys of John and Travis who both turn out to be straight, but seem to crave meth even more. Allen was another ex-con who may or may not have killed someone judging by his tear tattoo. He was also hired to kill Carole for a few thousand dollars and partied here in SC instead. Howard is Carole’s latest doting husband who knows he needs to be “all-in” on Carole’s beliefs or he may end up “disappearing” like Carole’s last husband. Erik, Saff, John Reinke, and videographer Kirkman are some of the many other offbeat characters that finish out the docuseries.
Lastly, we learn that the tiger world is not a glamorous one. While many of the employees seem to have a true love for taking care of the animals, the owners are definitely in it for the profit. The employees work long hours for little to no pay and are subjected to verbal and mental abuse. And then there are the tigers and other animals. This was depressing to say the least. The lack of food, unsanitary conditions, breeding for profit, and the euthanization of their lives just because they grew out of the cute cub phase and no longer needed, were just some of the inhumane conditions we learned about in the seven-part series. The good news is that hopefully the attention to this docuseries and Joe seemingly turning over evidence that implicates virtually everyone in the tiger world, will lead to further legislation that will truly protect these beautiful animals.
Netflix’s “The Tiger King” took us on so many twists and turns in the plot throughout the show where we never knew what would happen next. It taught us the good and (mostly) bad of the human condition. While we watched, we seemed to escape the monotony of COVID-19 and the “new normal” that had suddenly become our world. For a little while, we were off of some of the negativity that surrounds our social media lives and engaged in actual conversations about the craziness in the show. We pulled up podcasts, had Zoom meetings on it, and enjoyed many memes out there. Locally, Greenville has a great zoo here in town and I’m sure the lion, leopard and tiger exhibits will be an even bigger draw now once the COVID-19 Quarantine has been lifted. Let’s just hope that we’ll all appreciate and love these beautiful animals a little more, and that their care worldwide will improve as a result of “The Tiger King”.