Netflix's documentary series Tiger King primarily follows the many harebrained adventures of Joseph Maldonado-Passage - more commonly known as Joe Exotic - and the G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, OK, that he owned and ran before getting thrown in prison. Among other things, he was convicted of unlawful animal trading and handling, as well as breaching the Endangered Species Act. As it turns out, Joe Exotic wasn't the only person accused of running a controversial tiger park in the state of Oklahoma.
Bill Meadows, owner of Tiger Safari Zoological Park in Tuttle, OK, is no stranger to accusations of misdeeds. Meadows's tiger safari park has been investigated multiple times due to allegations of animal mistreatment.
Park Owner Bill Meadows Touts The Park As A Way To Get Kids Interested In Animals
Bill Meadows was an Oklahoma City firefighter until 2003, when he and his wife Melissa opened the Tiger Safari Zoological Park in Tuttle, OK. He's been reported as saying that the park allows patrons to interact with the animals as a way to get people interested in them.
Tiger Safari features overnight guest accommodations, a 2,300-square-foot welcome and convention center, a gift shop, a 30-foot-tall "Jungle Safari treehouse," a waterfall, a bed and breakfast, and an education center, in addition to a variety of exotic animal species.
Meadows has been quoted about his vision for the park, saying:
I want the public to get a feel like they’re in Africa, just being in Tuttle. They’re able to sit on the porch at night and just relax, overlooking the lemurs but also hearing the lions roar at night.
The park boasts many attractive features. However, a little investigation into the treatment of the animals residing there may have you rethinking a stay at Tiger Safari.
The Park Came To The Attention Of The Humane Society After The Demise Of A Lion
A lion caretaker at the park blew the whistle on Meadows after what is believed to be the untimely passing of Pharaoh the lion. Pharaoh was the third big cat to perish at Meadows's safari park in less than a year, sparking another investigation of Tiger Safari by the Humane Society.
Meadows said the lion was between 15 and 18 years old and that he expired from old age. The veterinarian who had been caring for Pharaoh, Dr. Patti Maness, said the animal had almost lost his life in 2009 due to a massive bacterial infection, but he was a "miracle cat" who pulled through.
It was reported on a site run by Carole Baskin that, just before he passed, Pharaoh lost so much weight and was so malnourished that he was unable to stand up. Meadows stated there was no wrongdoing in Pharaoh's passing. A necropsy on Pharoah was performed, but its results were not publicly reported.
The Tragic Passings Of Numerous Animals Sparked Several Humane Society Investigations
Even though there is evidence that most mammals live longer in zoos than in the wild, this is provided that they live in safe housing, as well as receive proper veterinarian care and nutrition in an appropriate social environment. Still, the argument stands that wild animals really aren't built for life in captivity. A longer life doesn't guarantee a great quality of life.
The Humane Society, which regularly investigates facilities suspected of putting animals at risk of harm, sometimes finds that the animals held at places like Tiger Safari meet their demise in cruel ways.
Presumed unwarranted deaths of captive exotic animals aren't limited to the United States. In 2014, it was estimated that European zoos ended the lives of between 3,000 and 5,000 healthy animals every year.
Tiger Safari Engages In Cub Handling, The Controversial Practice Depicted In 'Tiger King'
While tiger cub petting exhibitors might want us to believe that holding an adorable baby tiger is an activity that belongs on everyone's bucket list, tiger cubs just aren't the best candidates for constant handling.
Unfortunately, there are more tigers in captivity than currently in the wild, and cub petting may be partially to blame. At roadside zoos, cubs are often handled when they're only a few weeks old, and by the time they reach 3 or 4 months, they're too large and dangerous to be petted by visitors. This means that cub petting facilitators must constantly breed and replace the aging cubs with new ones.
Like human babies, tiger cubs require sleep during the day to develop properly. At tiger petting exhibitions, the baby tigers are woken up repeatedly to be handled for profit. They're often exposed to bacteria, germs, and diseases that result in sickness for the cubs. They're usually taken from their mothers at the moment of birth to be trained to be handled by humans. Sometimes, they face harsh physical treatment as a part of that training.
After cubs reach the maximum public petting age, they may become breeding tigers, pets, or zoo exhibitions. In some cases, they are simply terminated.