Here’s why Joe Exotic the ‘Tiger King’ was big cats’ greatest enemy
There’s a lot of strange people in America. Thanks to the internet, these people end up going down in infamy after their 15 minutes of fame are up. But forever we’re remembering the crazy story they leave behind. Joe Exotic, or Joe Schreibvogel, is one of the most recent 15 minute celebrities with the antics involving his zoo, but his ending took a darker turn than most do.
Netflix’s Tiger King is going into the story of Joe Exotic’s claim to fame and his rise and fall, premiering March 20th. The docuseries does have a higher focus on the crime that has Schreibvogel sitting in jail for the next 22 years. But the truth is Schreibvogel’s criminal history is more than just a murder-for-hire story.
The beginnings of the GW Exotic Animal Park
Opened in 1999, Schereibvogel’s first dive into infamy came with the opening of the Oklahoma roadside zoo, now managed by Jeff Lowe. Here, he paraded around a variety of exotic animals, specifically lions and tigers. A self-titled “Barnum”, Schereibvogel made these animals his life. But not in a positive way.
A dark underbelly of exotic animals
The true intentions of Schereibvogel’s zoo became clear during legal proceedings for the murder of his rival: he toted a large collection of hybrid lions and tigers. Selling them in the exotic black market, Schereibvogel grew his zoo collection through these connections.
An incident with a black market bird seller’s emus back in the beginnings of GW Exotic Animal Park was just a peek behind the curtain of how Schereibvogel treated his animals. When the emus went wild and he was called in to help, Schereibvogel shot at least six of the birds, and caused some to trample others in their flock. While he was tried for animal abuse, a grand jury found him not guilty.
Relationship heartbreak leads to more abuse
Of course, anyone who knows Joe Exotic knows about how outright he was of his homosexuality. But back in the day, he was quite private. His husband at the time Brian was his book keeper at the beginning of GW, but illness soon took Brian away from Schereibvogel. Family note this is the moment when Schereibvogel changed into the Joe Exotic version of Schereibvogel we all know.
First, it started with a travelling animal show with a variety of animals in tow. Children got to pet tiger cubs if they promised to stay clean of drugs and alcohol, while Exotic wasn’t sober himself. This show was where the name Joe Exotic came to life. While on tour, he also became an animal rescuer, bringing abused animals under his care with pity donations from zoo visitors. But this is where the breeding habits started.
Breeding crazy animals
Workers and friends claim any animals Exotic could get his hands on, he attempted to breed. Wildlife trafficking is a billion dollar industry, and Exotic was earning the title of Tiger King quickly. Breeding ligers (male lion, female tiger) and more offsprings of these ligers, Exotic became known in the game for his crazy breeding habits.
Exotic was a mad man, trying to play God with animals. Liger cubs and other exotic cats could fetch up to $10,000 each, and Exotic was in the business for those green bills and only those bills.
The war with Carole
Joe Exotic continued with his breeding business and his touring shows, while GW Zoo grew bigger through a variety of new animals in tow. But the Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin wasn’t going to sit quietly while Exotic was running amok with tigers and lions in tow. She made herself known to the GW Zoo and made it clear to everyone who associated with him that he was a known animal abuser.
This was becoming a problem for Exotic, as business wasn’t hurting, but he was losing some business. He was ready to go to war to protect his businesses, but so was Baskin. At one point, Exotic tied his animal show to the Big Cat Rescue, and Baskin knew she had him trapped. A million-dollar lawsuit later, Exotic was ready for revenge. But not before a short-lived political career, including an attempt at the presidency.
Revenge is a bit deadly
Hard times fell on Exotic and GW Zoo. An accidental shooting, two failed political campaigns, and the ongoing smear campaign by Big Cat Rescue were making Exotic’s already struggling business worse. So, drastic times call for drastic measures. Except this time, the drastic measure was hiring a hitman to kill Baskin.
Exotic tried to convince two employees to kill Baskin, but both hated Exotic enough to just warn Baskin about the imminent plot and run with the money. So, one employee brought a professional with him, except this was a professional FBI agent. With wiretapping during their conversation and additional evidence, the FBI built a case against Exotic for his attempted murder of Baskin.
Locked up like his tigers
The FBI was already building an animal abuse case against Exotic, so the attempted murder charge was just a bonus. It only took the jury hours after a week long trial to wholeheartedly convict Exotic for his crimes. Sentenced in January 2019, Exotic is in jail for the next 22 years for his animal abuse and attempted murder of Baskin.
But there’s so much more to Exotic’s story than all of this. While animal abuse and attempted murder were his official charges, Exotic’s history could include a whole lot more crimes. The full story needs a dramatic platform, so tune in to Tiger King on Netflix March 20th to get the full story.
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