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‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’ attracted equal praise and condemnation after it first aired on Netflix in March. More than 64 million households were reported to have tuned in a month after its initial release. The show documented the battle between big cat keeper Joe Exotic, real name Joseph Maldonado Passage, and his rival Carole Baskin who owned a sanctuary. She claimed he abused the animals within GW Exotic Animal Park and disagreed with him running a petting zoo – where the public could stroke and cuddle tiger cubs. Before the show aired, Joe Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in jail for a failed murder-for-hire plot against Carole, animal abuse, document forgery and more in 2019. In the months that have passed since the popular programme was broadcast, many have criticised sanctuaries and zoos alike for keeping big cats in captivity. But an animal rights campaigner told Express.co.uk that there are vast differences between the pair’s operations.
Debbie Banks, who has spent more than two decades trying to crack down on big cat crime with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), believes Carole Baskin and her sanctuary’s goals were pure.
She claimed that Joe Exotic’s was not as noble as he claimed because his tiger breeding efforts had “nothing to do with conservation” and were solely for profit.
The EIA investigator believes they should not be kept in caged facilities because it turns them into “tiger-shaped animals” that possess “none of the qualities of wild tigers”.
Ms Banks told Express.co.uk: “It’s all about profit, breeding in these facilities has no other reason than to have cubs for visitors to play with.
“Breeding tigers in the US has zero conservation, unless they are part of international stud books.
“It’s absolute nonsense, the tragedy is the number of people in the US who have been fooled by the idea that these facilities contribute to conservation.”
Ms Banks claimed that the decision to breed white tiger cubs highlighted Joe Exotic’s commitment to profit rather than helping to increase population sizes.
She told Express.co.uk: “There is a bizarre obsession with white tigers – likely because they are rare but they are more of a logical representation of bad genes.
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“They are rare in the wild because their pigmentation is caused by a recessive gene that is a result of inbreeding.
“There are no scientific institutions that would promote breeding specifically for white tigers.”
Ms Banks claimed to have met Carole Baskin “a couple of times” but stated that she had been involved in efforts to clampdown on big cat facilities.
She added: “[Her] desire is for there to be no more pet tigers, tigers in roadside petting zoos and other inappropriate places.
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“Ultimately they would like to see them all closed down as they are no longer needed – the end goal is for there to be no need for captive tigers.”
At the time of her interview with Express.co.uk, she stated that she had only seen a few episodes of the docu-series but claimed it “did a disservice to Big Cat Rescue” – the sanctuary that Carole ran in Florida.
Ms Banks also claimed that the portrayal of her efforts and others was “a disservice to tiger conservation”.
She added: “They are an incredible organisation… but having seen messages from Carole Baskin, she claims it was salacious and sensationalised.”
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