What happened to the big cats of “Tiger King”?


With their sanctuary closed to visitors, the most exciting that four male tigers had on a cold but sunny April afternoon was the crashing sound of icicles falling from empty walkways above their enclosure.

Because of Colorado’s precautions against coronaviruses, the only people these tigers had seen in a week at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in County Weld were their caregivers and reporters wanting to know more about the felines’ participation in one of the subjects most discussed in the sofa – country assembled.

They are four of the tigers that once belonged to Joseph Maldonado-Passage, popularly known as Joe Exotic, the central figure in Netflix’s new documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”.

Becca Miceli, chief animal science and welfare officer at the sanctuary, was initially reluctant to watch the documentary. Miceli finally settled, in part, to see if she could spot one of the tigers she is helping to care for on the vast 789 acre property nestled in the rolling plains of Colorado.

“I stopped a lot and said,” Hey, I think this is … “, she said. “I was not really surprised by the documentary,” said Miceli. “I saw it myself. “


In November 2017, Miceli said she was part of a team that went to the Maldonado-Passage private zoo, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, Oklahoma, to save the animals.

A federal magistrate granted a motion to transfer 19 tigers from the Oklahoma Zoo to the Colorado Sanctuary in a previous PETA lawsuit against a now closed Florida facility, Dade City Wild Things, and its owners. Documents filed as part of this lawsuit indicated that the owners of Dade City had deliberately moved the tigers to the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in violation of a court ruling.

The Colorado team took possession of the 19 tigers and brought them north of the sanctuary where they care for more than 520 rescued animals, including lions, bears, wolves and hyenas.

Miceli said the tigers had endured poor living conditions in Oklahoma. She said she saw animals confined in small cages, which had been declawed.

“People think that doing things like this makes them safe to work with. He’s still a tiger. It’s still a 400 pound predator at the end of the day. “

Less than a month after his first trip south, Miceli said that sanctuary personnel have returned to Wynnewood, Oklahoma, recovering twenty other tigers and three black bears.

“The biggest takeaway that we hope people get from the documentary is that they see beyond the characters and see what the real problem is,” said Miceli. “These animals have no voice. They are constantly exploited, constantly high. They do not have the choice. It is imposed on them. “

Two years after their stay in Oklahoma, tigers and bears now benefit from wide open fences and benefit from a formulated diet … in contrast to what was shown in the documentary Netflix.

In the documentary, Maldonado-Passage told the filmmakers that he fed his animals expired meat in a big-box grocery store. He also explains in the documentary how he fed his tigers on road deaths discovered by officials. Miceli believes that feeding has caused growth retardation in big cats.

“We just want our animals to have all their life’s happiness in as natural an environment as possible,” said Miceli.


This mission is now under severe strain due to the restrictions imposed by coronaviruses. Lost entry and concession fees affect the sanctuary’s ability to pay staff and care for animals. Sanctuary officials say it now relies heavily on private donations.

“The coronavirus does nothing to stop the needs that we have to provide as an organization,” said Miceli.

On March 25, the sanctuary said it had brought six tigers back to Colorado from Dade City Wild Things. Two days earlier, in a final judgment in the PETA lawsuit against the Florida Zoo, a federal district judge forced the owners of the property to abandon their tigers in various sanctuaries and ban them from owning tigers again. A message recorded on the main number of the zoo indicates that the park is closed due to “the request of our president”.

According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, there are up to 10,000 felines in captivity in the United States. But the mosaic of laws governing the ownership of these animals makes it difficult to obtain exact figures.

There is currently no direct federal law prohibiting the possession of dangerous exotic animals. The Big Cat Public Safety Act, a bill tabled in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019, would limit the possession, exposure and direct contact the public may have with big game.

At the Colorado Sanctuary, visitors are not allowed to touch the animals. Miceli says that reproduction is also prohibited. Many animals are sterilized and sterilized after arriving at the establishment. Those who are not are separated by sex.

Maldonado-Passage is currently serving a 22-year federal prison sentence for his role in a conspiracy to murder murder. The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park is now owned and operated by its former trading partner, Jeff Lowe. On March 29, the park announced on its Facebook page that it would not open the next morning because “the crowd has been huge since the Netflix show and we have trouble controlling so much traffic at once,” noting that he was working with the governor of Oklahoma to “seek advice on staying open while controlling the crowds”. The state announced the closure of all non-core businesses four days earlier. A recent Instagram post indicated that the facility was still closed.

Miceli is concerned that the spotlight in the documentary on the exploitation of tigers, associated with the temporary closure of zoos, will cause a major displacement of the big game animals currently living in private zoos or with individuals who consider animals as pets.

“With these zoos, their funding will change because people don’t go,” said Miceli. If zoos don’t have enough money to feed and care for their animals, Miceli thinks they’ll try to get rid of them.

“Unfortunately, I think we are going to get a high influx of phone calls,” said Miceli. “The concern would be that there will be a huge wave of animals in need. You are talking about hundreds and hundreds of animals. “


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