“The Tiger King” – Exploitation or Entertainment?

by | May 8, 2020

Across social media, it seems everyone is posting about viewing the documentary “The Tiger King” on Netflix. Released at almost the same time as orders from governors across the US to stay inside and limit or eliminate interactions with other people, the documentary was advantaged by a captive audience. It has generated numerous memes and jokes about the individuals shown, and a dissection of the craziness of their lives.

One thing that has been missing, however, at least until recently, is a discussion about the treatment of the animals by people such as Joe Exotic and others portrayed. Instead of discussing the antics of Joe, et. al., we should be discussing how these animals were treated, all in the name of providing “entertainment” to those of patronized the establishments.

Currently, the majority of animals housed within Joe’s facilities are now in sanctuaries, where they are free to live their lives.  If not exactly in their own natural habitats, at least they are free from further harm at the hands of the owners of the roadside zoos where they once resided.

Private ownership of big cats is a unique issue within the US. There are no federal laws that prohibit owning a big cat. Currently, thirty-two states have some form of ban in place, while fourteen states allow ownership with proper licensure. Four states have no laws on the books at all. Organizations such as Big Cat Rescue, run by Carole Baskin, one of the individuals featured in the series, are pushing for all-encompassing legislation that will stem the tide of the problem of big cat ownership by individuals who most likely do not have the animals’ best interests at heart.

Take Action

Introduced in the House on 02/26/2019, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, H.R. 1380, seeks to revise requirements governing the trade of big cats (i.e., species of lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, or cougar or any hybrid of such species).  Specifically, it revises restrictions on the possession and exhibition of big cats, including to restrict direct contact between the public and big cats.

The bill currently has 229 sponsors, who are listed here. If your representative is listed, please reach out to thank them for their support of this bill. If your representative is not listed, please call and leave a polite message urging them to support this important legislation.


Aimee Douglass is the Director of Compassionate Living. Aimee works in the healthcare industry and has a bachelors degree in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and a masters degree in Communications with a health care focus from Southern New Hampshire University.

Abhi Nadendla is a blogger at HAP and has been volunteering at the organization since late 2022. She is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and loves spending her free time helping out at animal shelters.

Hannah Lewis is a grant writer and blogger from Pittsburgh’s North Side who has been with HAP since 2020. In addition to writing and advocating for animals, she enjoys hiking, cooking plant-based meals, bouldering at her local climbing gym, and curling up with a good book and her long-haired cat, Freyja.

Kelly Frantz has recently joined the HAP family as a blog writer. She is passionate about animal protection and is excited to educate the community about animal welfare.