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The Netflix documentary series ‘Tiger King’ has caused quite a stir since its release on March 20, 2020. The show’s eccentric cast of characters, including Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, became instant pop culture sensations. The series delves into a world of big cat breeding, illegal wildlife trade, and murder-for-hire plots. But what about the money that funded these operations?
In this article, we’ll explore the financial trail of Tiger King and try to uncover where the money went.
Joe Exotic’s Finances
Joe Exotic, the star of the show, ran the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (GW Zoo) in Oklahoma. In the early 2000s, the zoo was thriving with hundreds of exotic animals such as tigers, lions, and bears. Joe, who legally changed his name from Joseph Maldonado-Passage, gained notoriety for his unique music videos and reality show ‘Joe Exotic TV.’
Joe’s income came mainly from several sources, including selling cubs to visitors for photo opportunities, charging visitors for tours, and hosting weddings and other events on the premises. The zoo also had a gift shop, snack bar, and a rentable cabin on the property.
It’s believed that Joe made $1,000 per tiger cub from the photo opportunities. With over 200 cubs born at the park in a single year, it’s easy to see how much money the operation generated. Another source of income was the ‘Safari Bed and Breakfast’ feature, where visitors could pay to spend the night with the animals.
According to court documents, Joe’s annual operating costs for the zoo were around $250,000, but he was consistently in debt, sometimes up to $250,000. In the series, Jeff Lowe, the man who took over the zoo from Joe, claimed that Joe spent money on lavish personal expenses, such as fancy cars, clothing, and travel.
Carole Baskin’s Finances
Another central figure in the series is Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. The sanctuary houses over 50 big cats rescued from roadside zoos, circuses, and private owners who could no longer care for them.
Carole and her husband, Don Lewis, became wealthy after buying and selling real estate in Florida. They invested in properties such as gemstone mines and a high-rise condo tower. In the mid-1990s, the couple also bought several bobcat farms in Florida, which they later turned into Big Cat Rescue.
In 1997, Don Lewis disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and Carole inherited his wealth. According to the series, she received $5 million in life insurance and control of their properties, which were worth around $10 million. However, Lewis’ family and friends have accused Carole of being involved in his disappearance, something she denies.
Carole’s income from Big Cat Rescue came mainly from donations and merchandise sales. In 2018, the sanctuary’s revenue was $2.2 million, with over $1 million coming from gifts and grants. The organization also has a gift shop and an online store that sells merchandise such as t-shirts and mugs.
Other Financial Players in Tiger King
The financial trail of Tiger King wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some other key players.
Jeff Lowe: Jeff Lowe took over the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park after Joe Exotic went to jail. He invested around $3 million into the zoo but claimed that it wasn’t profitable. In the series, Jeff claimed that he was being investigated for money laundering, but he denies any wrongdoing.
Doc Antle: Bhagavan Antle, or Doc Antle, runs the Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina. The sanctuary has been accused of exploiting animals, and Doc is rumored to have multiple wives and to run a cult-like organization. While his net worth is not publicly available, he charges visitors up to $10,000 for a VIP experience with the animals.
Mario Tabraue: Mario Tabraue, known as the ‘Cocaine King of Miami,’ was convicted in the 1980s for his involvement in a drug trafficking ring. After serving time in jail, he became involved in the exotic animal trade and owned a roadside zoo. Tabraue features in the series briefly and is portrayed as a big cat breeder and exotic animal dealer.
Q: How much did Joe Exotic make from Tiger King?
A: It’s not clear how much Joe made from the show, but some reports suggest that he did not receive any compensation from Netflix.
Q: How much does it cost to visit Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue?
A: The sanctuary is not open to the public for general visits. However, they do offer a variety of virtual tours and experiences ranging from $15 to $350.
Q: Who owns the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park now?
A: Jeff Lowe currently owns the zoo, but the property has been ordered to be handed over to Carole Baskin as part of a lawsuit settlement.
Q: Is Doc Antle still operating the Myrtle Beach Safari?
A: Yes, the Myrtle Beach Safari is still in operation, but Doc Antle and the sanctuary have faced criticism from animal welfare activists.
Q: Did Tiger King make Carole Baskin rich?
A: Carole Baskin was already wealthy before the show’s release, but it’s unclear if the show has had any significant impact on her financial situation.
In conclusion, the financial trail of Tiger King is far from straightforward. The show’s cast of characters has made money from a variety of sources, ranging from cubs’ photo opportunities to real estate investments. The show’s popularity and controversy have also generated publicity for some of the players, but it’s unclear if this has translated into significant financial gain.