In Depth

Tiger King stars: where are they now?

Hit Netflix documentary has introduced viewers to a cast of colourful characters

Netflix is captivating viewers worldwide with a true crime documentary series that offers an insight into the bizarre world of big cat breeding.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness tells the strange story of big cat breeder and zookeeper Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known by his alias Joe Exotic, and his rivalry with conservationist Carole Baskin, who runs the Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary in Florida.

Exotic was arrested and subsequently convicted in 2019 over a plot to have Baskin murdered. So what is he and the rest of the show’s colourful cast doing now? (Spoiler alert)

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Joe Exotic

Exotic, 57, was convicted on 17 federal charges of animal abuse and two counts of murder for hire in 2019, and is serving a 22-year sentence in prison. 

The big cat collector was found to have paid $3,000 (£2,400) to a hitman to carry out the killing, as well as killing tigers to make room for more big cats at his exotic animal park in Oklahoma.

Since the release of the docuseries, Exotic has filed a $94m (£75m) federal lawsuit against various government agencies, as well as his former business partner, according to People magazine.

In the lawsuit, the former country singer claimed “$73,840,000 is for loss of personal property; 18 years of research; and care of 200 generic tigers and cross-breeds for 365 days a year, at a boarding rate of $60/day per animal”, says the magazine.

“The additional $15 million is for false arrest, false imprisonment, selective enforcement and the death of his mother, Shirley,” it adds. 

Carole Baskin

The owner of Big Cat Rescue was not happy with the result of the documentary, posting a 3,000-word blog titled “Refuting Netflix Tiger King” on her sanctuary’s website.

Baskin claims that the makers of the series “came to us five years ago [and] said they wanted to make the big cat version of Blackfish”, the documentary that exposed abusive practices at SeaWorld.

Instead, Baskin writes, the series was produced with “the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers”.

The conservationist takes particular issue with the suggestion that she was involved in the disappearance of her ex-husband, self-made millionaire Don Lewis, in 1997.

CNN reports that Baskin has “long maintained she had nothing to do with the disappearance”, writing in her blog that Tiger King “has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role”.

Baskin still runs Big Cat Rescue, alongside her new husband, Howard Baskin. He has called the filmmakers “con artists” for their presentation of his wife, says the Daily Mail.

John Finlay

Entertainment site Popculture writes that “Finlay’s many visible tattoos, missing teeth and relationship with ex-husband Joe Exotic made him a quintessential part” of the show.

In later episodes of the documentary, Finlay reveals that he is straight and was involved with a woman who also worked for Exotic. 

Finlay and wife Stormey Sanders have started a Facebook page titled “The Truth about John Finlay”, which has 25,000 followers. 

He is currently working as a welder and has had a set of dentures fitted to replace his missing teeth. 

According to TMZ, he had the new teeth fitted in 2019, while the show was being shot, and is “a little miffed at Netflix and the filmmakers because they never showed it”.

Bhagavan “Doc” Antle

Finlay was not the only cast member not happy with how he came across in the show. Antle, who runs The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S) became an object of fascination for viewers, partly because of his multiple wives.

“We are very disappointed that our facility was mentioned in the new Netflix series,” ABC St Louis reported a now-deleted statement on Antle’s verified Instagram account. 

“We can only assume it is because Doc Antle has been such a high profile wildlife personality for so many decades that his association would create more buzz.”

Jeff Lowe

Lowe, who in the show bought Exotic’s zoo after he filed for bankruptcy, later became an informant after learning of the plot to kill Baskin.

According to NBC’s Today, Lowe still runs the Greater Wynnewood Zoo and is still married to his wife, Lauren. 

He plans to open a new zoo in Oklahoma later this year, according to his Instagram.

Joshua Dial

Dial, a former Walmart employee, was Exotic’s campaign manager when he ran for president in 2016 and state governor in 2017 (if you have not watched the series yet, you must be confused).

Dial also witnessed the death of Exotic’s 23-year-old husband, Travis Maldonado. 

According to witnesses, Maldonado died after he removed the magazine from a pistol to show that it wouldn’t fire without it, despite having bullets in the chamber. The death is detailed in the series.

People reports that Dial currently resides in Oklahoma, but no longer wants to work in politics. 

Kelci “Saff” Saffery

Saffery, who lost part of his arm when he stuck his hand in a tiger cage when trying to close the door, still works at the zoo, according to Variety

Referring to the incident on Lights Out With David Spade, Saffery said: “It’s not the tiger’s fault… you don’t have to put it down. It wasn’t put down. We just moved it off of the park.”

Rick Kirkham 

The producer who was shooting Exotic’s reality TV web series started out as a crime reporter, according to Variety, and began smoking crack cocaine while appearing on American news programme, Inside Edition.

Kirkham received a degree in broadcast journalism from University of Central Oklahoma, according to his LinkedIn account, later becoming a crime reporter for NBC and ABC News. 

He now works as a freelance reporter in Norway, where he lives with his wife, according to his Facebook page.

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