“Tiger King” has turned its subject Joe Exotic into an internet sensation, despite the fact he’s serving a jail sentence for conspiring to murder and that many in the wildlife conservation world view him as a dangerous figure. John Goodrich, one of the world’s leading tiger biologists, criticized “Tiger King” this week for focusing more on its over-the-top characters than their treatment of big cats, which has led many viewers to question what happened to Joe Exotic’s tigers. The answer has been uncovered by People magazine in a new interview with Wild Animal Sanctuary public relations director Kent Drotar. The Wildlife Animal Sanctuary is located in Colorado and is currently the home to 39 tigers and three bears previously owned by Joe Exotic.
Joe Exotic’s animals ended up in Colorado after their owner got mixed up in a legal fiasco with the Wild Things Zoo in Dade City, Florida. PETA once filed a lawsuit against the Florida zoo that claimed it was “mistreating endangered animals.” Joe Exotic attempted to bring 19 tigers from Dade City to his own zoo in Oklahoma. A judge threatened to charge Joe Exotic with bringing big cats over state lines, prompting Joe to give up 19 tigers to the Wildlife Animal Sanctuary. It wasn’t long after that 20 more tigers, plus three bears, were taken out Joe Exotic’s zoo and placed in the Colorado refuge.
Kent Drotar told People that Joe Exotic was “notorious for breeding cubs and selling them to other organizations that used cubs.” When the Wildlife Animal Sanctuary received Joe Exotic’s tigers, the big cats “came in malnourished and weak, with lackluster coats and extensive dental issues. Additionally, many of the big cats were poorly declawed and had mobility issues as a result.”
“It’s kind of like the tigers were thinking, ‘Wow, my life is not worth living,’” Drotar said of Joe Exotic’s animals. “The animals are just happier [not under his care]. They are no longer just pacing. It was almost an immediate change with their demeanor. They see other tigers. They see other animals. They see a horizon. They just have more of a purpose for living. There is no comparison on where these animals came from and where they are now.”