April 14, 2020

Last month, the documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” premiered on Netflix. Since its release, jokes and memes about the zookeepers featured in the documentary have flooded social media. Whether Carole Baskin was involved in the disappearance of her ex-husband and Joe Exotic’s mullet have become humorous topics of conversation during a serious pandemic.

     However, despite the entertainment value of the documentary, one of the major issues that the documentary sheds light on is America’s animal abuse problem. In the documentary, several instances of animal abuse are shown, mainly by zookeeper Joe Exotic at the G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.

     In one scene, Joe Exotic and his staff can be seen using a metal pole to drag tiger cubs away from their mother only moments after being born. At no point in the documentary are any veterinarians shown as a part of the staff at this zoo.

     According to conservation biologist Imogene Cancellare in an interview with NBC News, “Animals reared without mothers produced higher stress hormones compared to those reared with their mothers … it is psychologically cruel, medically negligent and serves no purpose for the animal in question.”

     The G.W. Zoo was in operation in Oklahoma between 1999 and 2019 and received several citations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Humane Society investigated the zoo in 2011 and recorded video footage of animals being physically harmed and killed. Despite the evidence, the zoo remained open for business and attracted visitors from across the country.

     This begs the question: how can Joe Exotic and others like him legally operate a zoo? To open a zoo, a potential zoo owner must obtain a license through the USDA. Obtaining one of these licenses is surprisingly easy; all that is required is that a potential zookeeper fill out a form and pay a fee. Once a license is obtained, they are rarely revoked unless the USDA decides to file a lawsuit.

     Although the G.W. Zoo is no longer in operation, thousands of zoos like it still exist across the country. If you are concerned about the treatment of animals in zoos, do your research before paying money to enter a zoo. Check to see if the zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The AZA has high standards for how animals are treated and cared for. You can learn more about the accreditation process at https://www.aza.org/.