The Story of Joe’s Tigers: Tracking Big Cats to Freedom
Tigers are among the most majestic, loved, and fierce creatures on the planet, inspiring and captivating human beings for generations. Sadly, these big cats have often been treated poorly, leading to a significant decline in their populations. Reports indicate that there are only around 4,000 wild tigers remaining in the world. In captivity, however, their numbers are higher, and many are kept as cold and inhumane “pets.” The story of Joe’s Tigers is a testament to how tracking these big cats into freedom is a long, costly, and dangerous affair.
Joe Exotic and the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park
Joe Exotic, now infamous from Netflix hit docuseries Tiger King, owned the G.W. Exotic Animal Park or the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma. This zoo was known for housing more than 200 big cats, including ligers and tigers. In 2010, the park caught the attention of the Big Cat Rescue (BCR), a big cat sanctuary of Tampa, Florida, run by Carole Baskin.
Abuse Allegations and Legal Challenges
BCR, a nonprofit organization, aims to end the unjust practice of keeping big cats as pets or using them for entertainment. Concerned with the treatment of the animals, Baskin’s group documented Exotic’s neglectful management of his big cats in the G.W. Exotic Animal Park. They discovered that the animals were frequently mistreated with golf clubs, prodded with sticks and whipped. Chaining was also common, leading to physical deformities and spinal injuries. In addition, the zoo did not maintain animal welfare and safety protocols required by government agencies.
BCR filed numerous legal cases against Exotic and established media campaigns to bring attention to animal cruelty. The zoo was a significant threat to the safety of animals and visitors alike. Exotic eventually ended up in jail for crimes not related to animal cruelty, accused of sending death threats to Baskin.
The Rescue of Joe’s Tigers
The BCR managed to secure a court order in 2013 through a settlement where the organization would receive ownership of Joe’s tigers. Before relocating them, the BCR coordinated the necessary licenses and permits to transport the animals. The tigers had chips implanted in them to help in tracking their movement and whereabouts at any given moment. On the day of transportation, the BCR staff team and a handful of volunteers arrived at the Joe’s zoo to round up and load up the tigers, which was a dangerous affair.
The Journey to Freedom
The loading process required sedatives to calm and relax the tigers and aid in the transportation process. Each tiger was accompanied by two caretakers who monitored their vitals during the trip. During the journey, the vehicles stopped a few times for feeding and watering the tigers. Over 24 hours, the team transported the tigers 12,000 miles away to the BCR’s sanctuary in Tampa, Florida.
Adjustment to Sanctuary Life
Once the tigers arrived, they underwent an adjustment period to life under new surroundings. The sanctuary provided them with vast natural habitats to roam and play, spacious dens to rest, and trees to scratch. The staff monitored the tigers’ progress and provided medical care, nutrition, and enrichment activities to keep the animals healthy and thriving. However, some could not adjust to life in a sanctuary.
The Cost of Rescuing Big Cats
Tracking Joe’s tigers to freedom was a long and expensive journey for the Big Cat Rescue team. According to their website, caring for a single big cat such as a tiger can cost more than $10,000 annually. The sanctuary incurred numerous expenses to set up new transport cages, licenses and permits, gas, sedation, medical care, and staff. But the tigers could not remain in captivity any longer as the conditions in Joe’s zoo were dangerous and unsuitable for the animals.
Conclusion: Protecting Big Cats to Thrive in the Wild
Tigers are beautiful creatures that deserve to be treated with adequate respect and care. The journey of Joe’s tigers from captivity to freedom is a story of triumph, and Big Cat Rescue’s efforts to deliver the animals to a comfortable, natural habitat are nothing short of astounding. Animal advocates must continue to shine the light on the need to secure appropriate habitats and habitats for these majestic creatures. Only with increased awareness, advocacy, and action to protect such tigers will they be able to thrive in the wild.