There are no heroes in the documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”
That’s why its mind blowing that there is a social media hashtag “#freejoeexotic” and T-shirts and mugs for sale online that read “Where is Don, Carole?” and “Tiger King 2020, Make America Exotic Again.”
Perhaps cabin fever is driving the world mad.
Because we at Friends of Animals think the egomaniac, fame seeking Joe Exotic is exactly where he is supposed to be—behind bars. There is some poetic justice knowing he is caged up after years of exploiting tigers, chimps, bears and other animals for money at his roadside zoo.
What we saw on screen was crazy and grotesque. It did not educate viewers about the abuse inherent in roadside zoos or that big cats should never be pets. And unfortunately, it sent a disjointed message about animal rights organizations’ impact on improving the lives of animals exploited and discarded by the exotic pet trade, the movie and TV entertainment industry, and circuses, as well as vivisection (animal research).
The best animal rights groups have a positive role in supporting sanctuaries, and by sanctuaries we mean places where the main goal is the safety and well-being of the animals in their care.
We know this because Friends of Animals has managed Primarily Primates, a primate sanctuary in Texas, since 2007.
Real sanctuaries don’t sell tickets to the public to gawk at animals and call themselves a big cat rescue. A zoo or roadside attraction’s main goal is to attract paying visitors. Our research has also indicated that it is likely Carol Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue took wild cats off site to birthday parties and events.
Sadly, what viewers saw in the documentary series is the way a lot of places are run. The animals are not respected or appreciated. The truth is Primarily Primates rescues animals from situations like viewers saw onscreen. Chimpanzee Mandy is just one example. She came from a zoo once described by Parade Magazine as one of the 10 worst zoos in America before it closed. Despite her past, she is always extending an invitation for friendship by trying to groom care staff.
Real sanctuaries don’t breed, kill or trade away the lives of animals released from exploitative industries. And a sanctuary will not dispose of an animal because it is not “perfect” enough for an exhibit. For example, Eon, a 25-year-old black handed spider monkey who passed away in 2016 after a battle with pancreatic disease that did not respond to treatment, came to Primarily Primates in 1993 from the Greater Baton Rouge Zoo. He was born via C-section and then rejected by his mother. After an adult male bit off part of his tail, the zoo decided Eon was no longer suitable for its exhibit.
While the zoo may have thought he was flawed, everyone at Primarily Primates thought he was just perfect, and he is still missed tremendously.
Lastly, at Primarily Primates the habitats are not designed to make people feel better about captivity so they will keep coming back to spend money. Its goal is to provide a safe home for the residents that they can’t escape from and that misguided humans can’t get into. We will never forget the killing of Harambe the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo because of human ignorance.
Real sanctuaries like Primarily Primates are truly places of hope where the animals come first. The only goal is to ensure each animal’s life is filled with a comfortable, secure and stimulating environment and to give them choices to flourish in their own way. For example, for most of its chimpanzees, Primarily Primates provides 24-hour access to outdoor grass bottom playground areas and same species companionship by housing them in compatible groups.
If you were as enraged as we were by what unfolded in “Tiger King” you can support us by visiting the Primarily Primates donation page. Helping lean nonprofits such as Primarily Primates is crucial during these difficult economic times. Your support makes our lifesaving work possible.
You can also tune into our new Facebook Live Events from the sanctuary on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. EST, which we are offering to help people cope with social distancing and give parents and educators one-of-a-kind material for homeschooling and online learning.
And not only that, you can meet some real heroes, our care staff—who show up despite natural disasters and pandemics because they know the animals’ lives depend on it.