Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness investigates the story of Joe Exotic, a tiger trader who became embroiled in a rivalry with Baskin – owner of the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary in Florida – who accused him of breeding big cats unethically.
Baskin’s ex-husband, Don, went missing 21 years ago. In the documentary, a number of people accuse her of being responsible for his death.
Accusations aired in the series include one that Baskin fed her husband’s body to the big cats at her sanctuary, a claim she brands “ludicrous”.
Baskin has never been charged with anything related to Don’s disappearance.
Since the show aired on Netflix, Baskin has condemned the production, calling it “salacious and sensational” in a blog post and claiming the series “lies” to attract viewers.
Baskin also took issue with the final version of Tiger King, a documentary she claims was pitched to her as the “big cat version of Blackfish”. Released in 2013, Blackfish exposed animal abuse at SeaWorld.
Tiger King co-producer Eric Goode defended the show to the LA Times, saying: “Carole talked about her personal life, her childhood, abuse from her first and second husband, the disappearance of her ex, Don Lewis. She knew that this was not just about ... it’s not a Blackfish because of the things she spoke about. She certainly wasn’t coerced.”
He continued: “The other thing I would say about all these people is that there was a lack of intellectual curiosity to really go and understand or even see these animals in the wild. Certainly, Carole really had no interest in seeing an animal in the wild...
“The lack of education, frankly, was really interesting – how they had built their own little utopias and really were only interested in that world and the rules they had created.”
Goode’s co-producer Rebecca Chaiklin added: “I would just say we were completely forthright with the characters. With any project that goes on for five years, things evolve and change, and we followed it as any good storyteller does. We could have never known when we started this project that it was going to land where it did.”
By contrast, Baskin’s nemesis Exotic is “over the moon” with the documentary, according to Goode.
Exotic, born Joseph Schreibvogel, is a big cat breeder who ran an exotic animal park in Oklahoma named GW Exotic. He appeared in a 2011 Louis Theroux documentary about dangerous pets.
He was jailed last year for 22 years, for crimes including trying to hire someone to murder Baskin, and for various crimes related to endangered species and conservation.
Goode said: “Joe has called me quite a few times over the last few days and weeks. One, he is absolutely ecstatic about the series and the idea of being famous. He’s absolutely thrilled. I think he is trying to be an advocate for — no surprise — criminal justice reform.
“He is in a cage and of course, he’s gonna say that he now recognises what he did to these animals. With Joe, we have empathy for him, but at the same time, he’s someone who really knows what to say at the right moment. I take it with a big grain of salt when he says he is now apologetic for keeping animals.”
Exotic has filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Interior and the US Federal Wildlife Service for nearly $79 million, while serving time at Grady County Jail in Oklahoma.
In the suit, according to TMZ, Exotic claims he was a victim of malicious prosecution and discrimination.