Tiger King depicted Baskin's Big Cat Rescue as equivalent to Joe Exotic's zoo, but that's far from the truth.
If Netflix's hit documentary Tiger King could be said to have one villain (twist: they're all villains), it's Carole Baskin.
Apart from any speculation about her past crimes, the documentary did a good job of selling the perspective that her so-called "sanctuary" was equivalent to the blatantly exploitative and inhumane operations of figures like Joe Exotic and Doc Antle. Rick Kirkham, the TV producer who sought to turn Joe's life into a reality show put it bluntly, calling her "just as bad as Joe [Exotic]," and asserting that "They were both, you know, taking advantage of exotic animals to make money."
The sense of hypocrisy this created, along with the implication that she was involved in the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy former husband and her generally antagonistic relationship with the show's horrible-yet-compelling antihero led most viewers to deeply dislike Baskin. A morning consult poll released earlier this month actually found that she was possibly the most disliked person on a show that featured multiple sexual predators/animal abusers. Since the documentary (about a man hiring someone to kill her) first aired, she has received numerous death threats and has even become the topic of a mocking dance craze on TikTok. But an article published by Insider on Monday challenges the common view of Baskin's hypocrisy.
The article refers to her portrayal as "The Big Lie in Tiger King," and runs through various facets of Baskin's Big Cat Rescue, including the fact that—despite Joe's claims to the contrary—the non-profit pays Baskin and her husband Howard only modest salaries for their work. It also covers the fact that it's designation as a sanctuary is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, which requires a certain level of care and treatment for the animals—as opposed to a private zoo, where there are few restrictions and even less enforcement. They would not allow her, for instance, to keep her big cats in tiny enclosures, though the documentary sometimes made it look that way.
Big Cat Rescue's largest enclosure is around two-and-a-half acres—nearly two football fields—while Joe Exotic packed multiple tigers into pens that were maybe the size of a basketball court. Of course it's easy for Big Cat Rescue to provide their animals with more room, because they don't breed their animals. While Carole Baskin did get her start in breeding and providing customers with hands-on experiences, she shouldn't be attacked for having a change of heart. She is no longer adding to the problem of big cats in captivity, and is instead fighting against it and trying to provide more humane treatment for her animals.
While Baskin's dependence on an army of unpaid volunteers is still worth criticizing—some of those dedicated workers definitely deserve to be paid—a balanced view of her operation would seem to suggest that her noble intentions for the tigers are not just an act. She truly seems to believe in her cause. She is genuinely trying to provide these beautiful, majestic creatures with a better life and doing her best to fight the inhumane treatment of big cats by private zoos and collectors.
Of course this perspective sheds new light on the main question surrounding Carole Baskin's life: Did she kill former husband Don Lewis? Could someone who has devoted so much time and energy to a good cause really be a murderer? Yes. Absolutely. This changes nothing.
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