Who is Joe Exotic? Meet the real life Tiger King from Netflix’s documentary

Hint: he's not a Joey Essex tribute act.

Tiger King

The big bosses at Netflix must have rubbed their hands together with glee when they heard the frankly head-spinning story of Joe Exotic, the star of new docu-series Tiger King. A vain zookeeper with bullet mark tattoos on his chest, ambitions to be a country music star and a questionable taste in haircuts, sent to prison for trying to murder his nemesis. What a pitch.

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Joe has certainly squeezed more into his 57 years than many would in nine lifetimes. Growing up on a farm in Kansas, Joe Schreibvogel as he was then known had a troubled childhood. He walked away with a love of animals and hopes of becoming a vet, but first became police chief of a tiny Texas town called Eastvale.

Later, he was to get a job at a pet store before finally purchasing a ranch in Wynnewood Oklahoma, where he opened his 16-acre GW Exotic Animal Park, a roadside zoo where he kept lions and tigers and paraded around like a modern Barnum, a self-styled showman. But that’s not even the half of it.

“Flamboyant” Joe was a master of self-promotion with political aspirations – he even put himself forward as a Presidential candidate in the 2016 US election, eventually won by Donald Trump. His promotional pictures for the zoo show him with his shirt unbuttoned and flies unzipped, while he boasts of almost always having two boyfriends at any given time, racking up a string of husbands even before gay marriage was legalised in the States. His range of merchandise includes mouse mats, condoms and personalised cashew nuts.

While he has all the hallmarks of the internet sensations we love to gawp at – and please do Google the music video for his song I Saw A Tiger – the story takes a sinister turn. Alongside wildlife charity PETA, who campaigned for years to stop Joe keeping animals, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, Carole Baskin, made it her mission to save the lions and tigers in his zoo.

Incensed by this, Joe tried to get her killed, offering two separate hitmen money to murder her. Unfortunately for him, one of these assassins was actually an undercover FBI agent. Last year Joe was convicted of two murder for hire charges, as well as 17 federal wildlife charges for abusing animals, including killing tigers to make room for other cats, and trafficking wild animals. In January this year he was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

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Tiger King drops on Netflix on 20th March