While America has been captivated by the bizarre tale of a colorful roadside zoo owner-turned-convicted felon in Netflix’s hugely popular "Tiger King," the media attention has not been kind to animal sanctuary owner Carole Baskin.
Baskin—who participated in the docuseries along with her husband Howard Baskin—has been receiving death threats, harassing phone calls and unwanted guests outside the gates of her property in the weeks since the docuseries began streaming, she told The Tampa Bay Times.
Baskin said she feels filmmakers mislead her about the project, portraying the film as a documentary to expose the cruelty of the tiger trade.
“I just feel so angry that people have totally missed the point,” she said of the viral hit. “And the point is these cubs are being abused and exploited and the public is enabling that.”
Instead, Baskin found her own personal life a central theme of the series. Filmmakers suggested at one point that Baskin may have played some role in her ex-husband Don Lewis’ 1997 disappearance, a theory that her rival and focus of the series, Joe Exotic, also regularly promoted.
Baskin has denied she had any involvement in the disappearance and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s spokesperson Merissa Lynn told the local paper that while they have not ruled anyone out in the disappearance, Baskin isn't considered a suspect.
But the fascination with the docuseries and Baskin herself has earned the Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary owner some unwanted attention.
She said she’s had drones flying over her home, as many as 30 people a day lingering at the sanctuary gates and has even received death threats.
Baskin posted a compilation clip of death threats she has received — nearly an hour’s worth — to her Facebook on Wednesday. The clip is filled with several dozen calls. While some calls seem like pranks, plenty of them contain death threats. The very first caller talks about “putting a bullet between your f---king eyes.”
Baskin told Oxygen.com that the calls were made after March 20.
“I have a pile more already, even though I just created that a couple days ago,” she wrote over email.
She pointed Oxygen.com to more videos she made, addressing the allegations made by her harassers.
“What kind of people believe what they see on TV without doing any research or critical thinking?” Baskin wrote in a brief commentary she posted along with the death threats. “Warning this is extremely graphic and difficult to listen to or read. No animal abuse photos though; thankfully.”
The sanctuary closed its doors to the public on March 16 in response to the coronavirus.
Baskin said she's stopped riding her bike the 30 minutes each day from her home to the sanctuary because of the public attention and while she normally takes calls from law enforcement or veterinarians about cats that need to be rescued, she’s now screening her calls.
“I’ve had to turn my phone off,” she said. “I can’t tell the real ones from the fake ones because they’re always out-of-state numbers anyway.”
Her biggest complaint, however, has been that she believes the docuseries failed to expose the abuse and breeding of big cat cubs.
“There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the series not only does not do any of that, but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers,” she wrote on her website in response to "Tiger King."
Howard Baskin also told the local paper there was “no way to describe the intensity of the feeling of betrayal.”
Carole Baskin said when she agreed to participate in filming, she believed the docuseries would do for big cats what “Blackfish” did for orcas at SeaWorld.
Filmmakers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin responded to Baskin's criticism in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“I would just say we were completely forthright with the characters,” Chaiklin said. “With any project that goes on for five years, things evolve and change and we followed it as any good storyteller does. We could have never known when we started this project that it was going to land where it did.”
Goode also responded saying that Baskin openly discussed aspects of her life on camera.
“Carole talked about her personal life, her childhood, abuse from her first and second husband, the disappearance of her ex, Don Lewis. She knew that this was not just about … it’s not a 'Blackfish' because of the things she spoke about,” he said.
Baskin told The Tampa Bay Times she discussed aspects of her personal life because she thought it was being used for background.
Despite the unwanted attention, Baskin and her husband said they are still hopeful that the public interest in the docuseries will spark attention from law enforcement about the abusive nature of the tiger trade.
“We’ve all been screaming at the top of our lungs for 20 years that this abuse is happening and no one was listening,” she said. “Now that the abuse is so apparent, I hope it will encourage them to take action on it and inspire Congress to do what they can to end cub-petting and private possession of big cats.”
Exotic is currently serving 22 years behind bars for attempting to hire a hitman to kill Baskin and killing five tigers to make room at his zoo.
Gina Tron contributed to this report.
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