AFTER the smash success of the original series, the release of Tiger King 2 is set to be the TV event of the season.
But one person who is dreading the return of the Netflix show is Carole Baskin – the animal rights campaigner who says she was “betrayed” by the original production company and portrayed as a “villain and murderer”.
Carole and husband Howard are involved in an ongoing case against Netflix, asking the courts to ban the use of previously filmed footage because they only agreed to appear in series one.
The 60-year-old – who runs the Big Cat Sanctuary in Florida – became an international star after former zoo owner Joe Exotic attempted to have her killed, and raised questions about the disappearance of her second husband, Don Lewis.
Now Carole – who has suffered abuse and death threats since the first series aired – fears the new season will fan the flames of hate.
“We live in fear,” she tells The Sun.
“We haven’t been able to open the sanctuary to visitors since the pandemic, for fear of violence.
“With all the hype over Tiger King 2, the hate has gone off the charts again. People have only seen the trailer and already they're posting hateful things
“I'm getting phone calls in the middle of the night, waking me up just to scream at me.”
Carole initially agreed to appear in the Netflix series – under the working title Stolen World – because she believed it would be an exposé of animal cruelty in money-spinning zoos, where visitors pay up to £5,000 a time to pet tiger cubs.
But she feels “betrayed” by filmmakers at Royal Goode Production after the feud between herself and Joe Exotic became the central story of the show.
Carole says she worries about her daughter, Jamie – from her first marriage to Mike Murdock – who has also had to beef up security after receiving threats.
“I've been threatened for decades by people who exploit big cats, but in the last couple of years, after people were so misled by what they saw in the Netflix show, it has been weaponized,” she says.
“Every crazy person out there who thinks that Joe Exotic should be freed and that he was set up wants to set the score right by killing me.”
Tiger teeth removed 'to make jewellery'
To set the record straight, she is fronting her own documentary, Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight, which is now available on Discovery+.
The show sees the Baskins taking over Exotic’s infamous Greater Wynnewood Park in Oklahoma – which they were awarded after he was jailed for 22 years for the murder plot – and searching for evidence of criminal cruelty towards big cats.
With the help of former homicide detective Griff Harrison and Joe Exotic’s niece Chealsi Putnam, who worked at the zoo as a teenager, they dig for the bones of dead cats buried on the plot and uncover evidence they were illegally killed and their teeth removed “to make jewellery”.
In an emotional scene Carole breaks down when she finds travel cots in Exotic’s former home, where the cubs were kept after being ripped from their mothers minutes after birth.
“They’d be screaming and their mothers are yards away in the birth den, and could hear them screaming,” she says. “I can’t imagine how terrible that was for the mothers and the babies.”
Now she’s hoping the two part series will refocus attention on the cruel treatment of tigers in petting zoos and the “lies” about breeding in captivity.
“There was one scene in Tiger King where the mother was giving birth in the den and the guys on the outside used a metal hook to drag the cub away from her while she was still delivering,” she tells The Sun.
“They dragged it across the rocks, squeezed it through the wire and held it up to see whether or not they had a lucrative female cub.
Every crazy person out there who thinks that Joe Exotic should be freed and that he was set up wants to set the score right by killing me
“I think that scene alone hit people and made them aware of what this industry is really about.
“It's not about conservation. It's about making a lot of money off of these babies.
“People will pay to see a cute little cub but those cubs aren’t small and cute for very long. So they have to keep breeding more and dumping or killing the older ones.
“In Cage Fight, we have footage which shows how the cubs are treated and what it does to them, how they react, so that people can see for themselves.
“It shows people what the truth is because we've been telling people for years that cub petting is abusive, the cats hate it, but they don't know until they actually see it.”
As well as two charges of attempted murder for hire, over his plans to kill Carole, Exotic was convicted of 17 federal charges of animal abuse and jailed in 2019.
A year later, Carole and Howard took over GW zoo – which was being run by Exotic’s Tiger King co-star Jeff Lowe.
Before leaving, Lowe’s crew systematically destroyed properties on the 14 acre plot and painted vile graffiti messages accusing Carole of murdering Lewis, who disappeared after leaving their Florida home in 2002.
She says taking over the property was an emotional experience.
“When I walked through the gates, it was like unleashing the hounds of hell,” she says. “We could just feel all the abuse and all the suffering in that facility. You could just feel it throughout your entire being.
“It was more painful than anything. It was so sad to know how these animals have been treated all of these years.”
There are an estimated 5,000 tigers in captivity in the US alone – the majority in unregulated zoos – but only 4,000 in the wild.
Carole, who takes in big cats rescued from cruelty, currently has 51 at her sanctuary and admits she initially bred them in captivity herself before realising it was impossible to boost numbers in the wild in this way.
“The only cats who can ever be released to the wild or those who were born in the wild,” she says.
“Talk about breeding for conservation is all a lie and that’s why I want this whole industry to finally be brought to a close.”
After leaving GW, Jeff Lowe took his cats to a new facility in Thackerville, Oklahoma, and Cage Fight sees the Baskins collaborating with animal activists SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) to fly drones over the land to capture footage of the cages.
Despite threats and intimidation from Lowe – who has since lost his licence to keep cats – they filmed tigers kept in bare steel cages around 10ft by 6ft, pacing up and down through cage fever.
“Thanks to SHARK the public can see the way these animals are being kept in those tiny little steel boxes and the way the cats pace all day long, have nothing to do, no place to hide, no place to get out of the weather,” Carole says.
“The public rarely sees inside these places. They see the cats when they are taken to a special, big area which has been groomed and manicured, not the way the animals actually live.”
'Joe's family hates him – we're on good terms'
Exotic’s niece Chealsi, who first started coming to the park at the age of nine, might seem an unlikely ally of the couple, but she has turned her back on her uncle after he was convicted of cruelty.
She tells Carole the tigers were dragged into “dead holes” when they died, and their incisors sawn off to make necklaces, adding she was once given one as a Christmas gift and asked to help sell a tiger skin for £5,000.
“We’re on good terms with Chealsi and Joe's entire family because they hate him,” she says.
“Chealsi has talked a lot about how Joe robbed her grandmother and exploited her.
“Tiger King viewers might remember Joe's mother crying and saying that I was taking away her house and but we never went after his mother’s house,
“Joe put her up to that and was intimidating her into filming, and that's why she was so upset, not because of us.”
As well as focussing on the fight between Carole and Joe Exotic, Tiger King raised questions about her former husband Lewis’s disappearance and featured interviews with his children, who no longer talk to the Baskins.
After she signed up for Dancing with the Stars last year, the Lewis family’s lawyer ran a paid ad offering £75,000 ($100,000) reward for information about his death.
But husband Howard points out that Carole put up a reward for the same amount at the time of his disappearance, adding that it was worth “twice as much as it is today, and nobody talks about that”.
Carole – who believes his light aircraft crashed into the sea during one of his frequent trips to Costa Rica – feels they may have been manipulated by the producers behind the Netflix show.
“We don’t speak with Don’s family but I don't hold the things that were said in Tiger King against them,” she says.
“I know from people that have talked about the way they were interviewed that they were probably badgered into saying a lot of things they said.”
While the Baskins continue their fight to ban their own footage from Tiger King 2, Carole says she will watch it if it airs.
“At least this time, we're prepared for it,” she says. “We were taken by surprise before because you nobody had ever made up such lies about us and then tried to promote that as a true narrative by lining up one abuser after another to back each other's stories up.
“We expect that there will be a whole lot more of that, but at least we'll be prepared and not shocked.
“Hopefully, by then people will have seen Carole Baskin's Cage Fight and they'll see what we do, who we are and know the truth behind the matter.”
Despite the threats to her safety, she has vowed never to give up the fight to stop breeding in captivity.
“I could lose my daughter and my husband, and that worries me, but I can’t go anywhere,” she says.
“People who abuse animals hate me because I won't shut up about it. That's why they all tell the lies that they do, but I won't let them get away with abusing these cats and I won’t rest until there are no big cats being bred in captivity.”
Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight is available now on Discovery+. Tiger King 2 is out today on Netflix.
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