When it debuted in March 2020 on Netflix, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” became TV’s first pandemic hit, giving panicked viewers something to watch besides terrifying reports about the global proliferation of Covid-19. With its outlandish subculture full of colorful characters engaging in varying degrees of questionable behavior, the documentary reflected the air of unreality that distinguished the early days of the coronavirus — starting with the Tiger King himself, Joe Maldonado-Passage, who ended the series in a federal prison in Fort Worth, Tex.
It’s not just Joe Exotic, as he is known, fighting the law anymore: Several people made famous by “Tiger King” are facing legal trouble. These include the zoo owners and exotic-animal breeders Tim Stark; Bhagavan Antle, known as Doc; and Jeff Lowe, Joe Exotic’s former business partner, who assumed control of his roadside zoo in Wynnewood, Okla., after Maldonado-Passage went to prison.
With a new five-episode season of the series, “Tiger King 2,” premiering on Wednesday, it’s a good time to catch up with some of the eccentric stars of the original.
Maldonado-Passage is now two years into a 22-year prison sentence for violating the Endangered Species Act (by trafficking and killing tigers) and for twice attempting to hire someone to murder the animal advocate and rival sanctuary operator Carole Baskin, a scheme that was explored in “Tiger King.”
Maldonado-Passage has always maintained his innocence and still hopes to be set free — a requested pardon from former President Donald Trump never came, so Maldonado-Passage has refocused his efforts on Joe Biden. Those also have been unfruitful, but he did catch a break: A federal appeals court ruled in July that Maldonado-Passage must be resentenced because his trial judge, Scott L. Palk, had considered his two murder-for-hire counts separately instead of together, as the appeals court decided he should have. Maldonado-Passage’s conviction still stands, but under this new consideration, his sentence could be reduced.
This development has galvanized his new lawyer: John Phillips, who formerly represented both Anne McQueen, the onetime secretary of Baskin’s missing and declared dead former husband, Don Lewis, along with members of Lewis’s family. Phillips, who is arguing both for a new judge (given that Judge Palk has overseen multiple civil and criminal cases involving Maldonado-Passage) and for a reversal of the conviction, has been gathering affidavits from such “Tiger King” stars (and witnesses) as the confidential informant and jet ski aficionado James Garretson and the former zoo manager John Reinke.
Phillips also solicited new sworn statements from Maldonado-Passage’s bitter rival Jeff Lowe as well as Allen Glover, the former zoo handyman who testified during Maldonado-Passage’s criminal trial that Maldonado-Passage had paid him to kill Baskin. Lowe now says that the text conversation between him and Glover regarding the murder plot, seen in “Tiger King,” was a put-on. And in a video posted by Phillips’s law firm, Glover says that he committed perjury when he testified against Maldonado-Passage. (There are no indications that he has been charged for perjury because of this admission.)
Next week, Simon and Schuster is scheduled to release Maldonado-Passage’s memoir, called “Tiger King: The Official Tell-All Memoir.” His former husband, Dillon Passage, has said that it would discuss the mental, physical and sexual abuse Maldonado-Passage has experienced.
Passage has moved on romantically, leaving Maldonado-Passage in the market for a new mate (and presumably a new last name). Joe Exotic kicked off a competition for his affections on his website, which he called a “Bachelor King” contest: The top three candidates get to go on a romantic getaway with him upon his release from prison: “You could be my next husband!” the application reads. (He seems very optimistic.)
Carole and Howard Baskin
Carole Baskin and her current husband, Howard, who have said they felt deceived and betrayed by the original “Tiger King,” refused to participate in the sequel — they even tried (and failed) to block it in court.
But they’ve hardly been recluses. After a record-low score on “Dancing With the Stars” last year, Carole Baskin used her more recent media appearances primarily for straightforward animal advocacy. She is counterprogramming “Tiger King 2” with a show of her own, a docu-series called “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” on Discovery+. In the show, she teams up with animal rights activists, detectives and other sources to try to find evidence of animal trafficking and abuse (her targets include Lowe).
In June 2020, a federal court judge in Oklahoma awarded Carole Baskin control of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, the former zoo of Joe Exotic’s that had been taken over (and renamed) by Lowe. Lowe and his wife, Lauren, left the site in such disrepair that a federal district judge ordered them to pay more than $24,000 in damages. (Which they haven’t done, according to an Oct. 29 court filing by Baskin.) The Baskins sold the property in August with the proviso that it could not be used to house exotic animals.
Carole continues to lobby for wildlife protections, as seen in the documentary film “The Conservation Game.” (Baskin will participate in a live online Q. and A. about the film on Tuesday night.)
Jeff and Lauren Lowe
The Tiger King may have bequeathed his throne, however unwillingly, to his former business partner Jeff Lowe, but the Lowes have had a reversal of fortune, too. They’ve lost their animals and multiple properties, and they owe plenty of money, as well.
The Justice Department, working with various sanctuaries, seized their captive wildlife in a series of raids in May and August, after U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors said they found unsanitary conditions and evidence of neglect, according to a U.S.D.A. official. These raids might appear in the “Tiger King” sequel, as Lowe told the authorities present that he had filmed them and would sell the footage to Netflix, according to a Fish and Wildlife Service agent who participated.
After they lost the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park to Carole Baskin, the Lowes subsequently tried to start up a new complex, the Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Okla., but never managed to open it to the public. The Lowes’ landlord sued them for $10,000 in back rent and evicted them in October.
The bills and nonpayment claims for veterinary services and other expenses keep piling up. The Lowes still owe money to the state of Oklahoma, which sued them for back taxes and eventually agreed to a monthly payment deal. Two of their lawyers have filed to terminate their legal representation, one of them citing nonpayment. It’s still unclear how severe any Justice Department penalties might be — both sides have agreed in principle to settle the case but it is dragging on thanks to the Lowes’ “continued noncompliance” in providing animal records, according to an order filed by a judge last month. (Their lawyer said they needed more time because of the eviction.) On the table is an agreement that, among other stipulations, would prevent the Lowes from ever exhibiting any animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act.
Lowe also is still wanted in Las Vegas — another no-show in court this summer provoked a Nevada judge to issue four bench warrants. (The couple’s social media feeds paint a rosier picture of their circumstances.)
Look ma, no cavities! John Finlay, billed in “Tiger King” as Maldonado-Passage’s ex-husband — although he disputes that they were ever married — was missing multiple teeth when he appeared in the original series. Before the show debuted, however, he underwent a dental makeover in 2019 (something he was able to show off in the bonus episode, “The Tiger King and I”). He is also slowly removing and covering up some problematic tattoos (such as the ones that read “Privately Owned by Joe Exotic” and “For My Husband, Joe”).
Finlay now says that his three-way wedding with Joe Exotic and Travis Maldonado in 2014 was fake — a publicity stunt for a reality show that Joe had planned. Finlay has since married a woman named Stormey Sanders, with whom he shares a daughter. He posted on Facebook that this “is the first time I ever have been married and I gotta say, I like it!”
The former head zookeeper at facilities operated by both Maldonado-Passage and Lowe, Erik Cowie started getting into trouble of his own this spring. He was charged with a D.U.I. after his involvement in a two-car collision in May. He pleaded guilty but skipped out on his sentencing hearing, at which point an arrest warrant was issued in Oklahoma. He relocated to New York but was found dead a few months later in Brooklyn from acute and chronic alcohol use.
The Lowes posted an Instagram tribute to Cowie, arguing that the seizure of the animals had contributed to his decline: “After the animals were ripped away by the Department of Justice, he sadly couldn’t take it anymore.”
Tim Stark and ‘Doc’ Antle
In the wake of the first series, other roadside zoos have also been shut down.
Stark, the owner of Wildlife in Need, in Charlestown, Ind., has been buffeted by legal troubles in which he lost his animals, his property and his firearms. After former staff members accused him of animal abuse, Stark, who advertised his facility as a nonprofit, was found by the U.S.D.A. to have violated the Animal Welfare Act 120 times; a judge permanently revoked his exhibition license and fined him and his facility a total of $340,000. In April, an Indiana judge ruled that Stark had fraudulently used funds from the nonprofit for his own personal use and barred him from ever acquiring, owning or exhibiting animals again.
Expect to see some of these events in “Tiger King 2,” including the removal and relocation of more than 200 animals from his facility in September 2020. A Netflix production crew was filming during the bumpy removal process, in which several animals went missing, resulting in an arrest warrant for Stark for contempt of the court’s removal order.
Another warrant was issued in late September, for intimidation and battery, after an Indiana deputy attorney general told police Stark had threatened him during an inspection of Stark’s facility. Stark fled the charges and was captured a few weeks later in Granville, N.Y., after officers evacuated the bed-and-breakfast where he was staying, believing he had a live grenade. (He did have a grenade, but it turned out to be fake.) He eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser intimidation charge and was sentenced to time served.
In April, Stark posted a Facebook Live video in which he said he couldn’t “think right mentally anymore.” He also brandished a gun and threatened violence to himself and others. He was taken into custody, given a psychiatric evaluation, and his license to carry handguns was suspended, with an Indiana court declaring him a “dangerous person.”
In June, a federal judge ordered Stark to pay the nonprofit group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals more than $730,000 in legal fees stemming from various court battles with him. Stark later posted a Facebook Live video in which he said he had declared bankruptcy. A hearing regarding the collection of assets belonging to his Wildlife in Need organization is scheduled for Dec. 16. (For more on Stark’s criminal cases, listen to the “The Roadside Zoo” episode of the Strangeville podcast.)
Antle, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, in South Carolina — also known as The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS) — was indicted in October 2020 on charges of felony wildlife trafficking and misdemeanor animal cruelty. Antle’s facility continues to operate, and his trial is set to begin in July 2022.
Antle was unhappy with the original “Tiger King” and didn’t participate in the sequel. But he said he anticipated being featured anyway, as some of his ex-wives and ex-volunteers were interviewed.
The rescued big cats and other animals from Exotic’s and Lowe’s facilities have found new homes in 17 different wildlife sanctuaries.
“Surviving Joe Exotic” (available on Amazon Prime Video) tells the stories of four of the cats who started new lives in feline-centered facilities such as WildCat Ridge Sanctuary, in Oregon, and Exotic Feline Rescue Center, in Indiana, both essentially retirement homes for abused animals who cannot return to the wild. The majority of the Tiger King rescues — 39 tigers, including a white tiger named Pearl — ended up at Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary. (Pearl’s tale is told in this video of a recent fund-raiser event.) Several Wildlife in Need rescues — 17 lions and tigers — also found new homes at Wild Animal Sanctuary, while other big cats ended up at an Arkansas sanctuary.
To date, at least 350 animals have been rescued from the stars of “Tiger King.”