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As popular as it is bad, according to many a critic, the hot Netflix docu-series “Tiger King” has captivated a lot of viewers being forced to shelter at home as a result of the Wuhan virus COVID-19.
But the success is proving to be difficult for Carole Baskin, the woman featured in the documentary, who runs the Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary for lions and tigers and other large felines, located near Tampa, Florida.
Baskin told the Tamp Bay Times she fears leaving home because of the death threats that flooded in after the series began airing last month, and that she feels betrayed by the filmmakers, being led to believe they were going to focus on her efforts to expose cruelty in the captive tiger trade.
The newspaper noted instead, critics believe the series “glamorizes the worst actors in the captive tiger trade as endearing eccentrics while portraying Carole Baskin as a shady exploiter no better than the abusers she’s spent years trying to shut down.”
“I just feel so angry that people have totally missed the point,” Baskin said. “And, the point is, these cubs are being abused and exploited and the public is enabling that.”
Her husband, Howard Baskin, added, “There’s almost no way to describe the intensity of the feeling of betrayal.”
There’s also the matter of the 1997 disappearance of Baskin’s ex-husband, Don Lewis, which the series “spent considerable airtime insinuating Baskin may be responsible for,” the Times reported.
Hillsborough County sheriff’s spokesperson Merissa Lynn told the newspaper Baskin is not considered a suspect, but noted that the investigation has not ruled anyone out.
The man at the forefront of the accusation is Joseph Maldonado-Passage — aka “Joe Exotic — who was convicted of trying to have Baskin killed.
The rivalry between Maldonado-Passage, a fellow big-cat enthusiast, and Baskin is at the center of “Tiger King.”
Described by the Times as “a gay, polygamous, mullet-wearing, camera-obsessed Oklahoma zookeeper,” Maldonado-Passage was sentenced in January to 22 years in prison for wildlife crimes that included killing five tigers to make room at his zoo, as well as plotting to have Baskin murdered, according to the paper.
In a statement released on the sanctuary’s website, Baskin has vehemently denied any role in her ex-husband’s alleged death, while ripping the filmmakers, who have “had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers.”
“As part of that, it has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don in 1997,” the statement said.
In response, Tiger King co-producer Eric Goode told the Los Angeles Times that “Carole talked about her personal life, her childhood, abuse from her first and second husband, the disappearance of her ex, Don Lewis. … She certainly wasn’t coerced.”
As for Baskin’s fears, she said in the interview that she has seen drones flying over her home and that a doorbell camera has captured as many as 30 people a day lingering at the sanctuary gates — Big Cat Rescue closed on March 16 due the COVID-19 outbreak.
(Tiger King was released on Netflix on March 20, 2020.)
More from the Tampa Bay Times:
“I’ve had to turn my phone off,” she said. “I can’t tell the real ones from the fake ones because they’re always out of state numbers anyway.”
She used to ride her bike 30 minutes from home to the sanctuary every day. But that has become too risky.
Last week, she said there was a car waiting for her in a median with a man filming and screaming at her. Another day, she said a woman waiting on the side of a trail in a hammock jumped up when Baskin approached, yelling:
“That’s her, that’s her.”
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