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Cat-alyzing: A conversation with Carole Baskin

Bill DeYoung

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Click the arrow above to watch the video interview.

In 2020, Tampa animal activist Carole Baskin became an unwitting celebrity, after she was featured in the documentary miniseries Tiger King on Netflix. Record audiences binged on the salacious story of Oklahoma zookeeper Joseph “Joe Exotic” Schreibvogel and his attempts to have Baskin – who objected publicly to his inhumane, for-profit treatment of big cats – murdered.

Tiger King, which ended with Joe Exotic sentenced to 22 years behind bars, made Baskin the target of death threats via the post, the internet and social media, the punchline to late-night comedians’ jokes, and intense water-cool scuttlebutt (Schreibvogel speculated, with no evidence, that she had killed her husband Don Lewis in 1997, and fed him to the captive tigers at her Hillsborough County sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue).

Baskin has always maintained that she was interviewed for Tiger King under the proviso that the film was to document a small gentleman’s club of breeders like Joe Exotic, who exploit big cats as babies, and then cast them aside when they’re too old to generate cash.

In this exclusive interview with the St. Pete Catalyst, Baskin says she has never spoken with Joe Exotic, although she’d known who he was for a long time. “Part of our mission is to expose people who are abusing big cats,” she says. “These people often operate under different names, so that they can hide from their bad USDA reports, and the criminal activities that they’ve been involved in.

“On the website I created, I would consolidate, under a single person’s name, all of their aliases. And I discovered that 21 of the aliases belonged to Joe Schreibvogel.”

In the interview, Baskin describes Schreibvogel’s years-long public attacks on her character, and her motivations, and the copyright-infringement lawsuit she won against him … all of which led to the so-called Tiger King recruiting a hitman.

She also discusses the recently-released Tiger King 2, and the lawsuit she and husband Howard Baskin filed against Netflix and the producers, claiming they had not signed an agreement to be featured in a second series.

The suit was ill-timed, and was ultimately dropped. Tiger King 2 premiered, and the reviews were brutal (Slate said the series “continues to document the never-ending squabbles of a bunch of shady low-life animal collectors and the unfortunate dupes who come into their orbit”). The sequel did not have the “gotcha” power of the original series (“Enough is enough,” cried The Guardian).

One good thing did come out of the experience, Baskin says: “In Tiger King 2, an attorney produces a document that he says is from Homeland Security, stating that Don Lewis was alive and well in Costa Rica.”

She’s attempting to locate the original, unredacted document.

Does she think it might be true? “Who would have better intel than Homeland Security?” Baskin asks. “I was shocked, because I didn’t think that Don was capable of supporting himself that long. But another thing that came out in Tiger King 2 was that he was involved in pedophilia, and I think even someone who is illiterate can make a living peddling little girls to dirty old men.

“If that is the case, he could have done that, quite well, I’m sure.”

Big Cat Rescue website

Saving wild cats with web cams: BigCatRescue.org/earth

 

 

 

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    Pamela

    December 24, 2021at8:51 am

    Thanks for this story. Carole does very good work on behalf of big cats and deserves community support. The cats are very lucky to have her to advocate on their behalf instead of exploiting them like so many others do.

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