'Tiger King' Raises Serious Questions About Exotic Pets


Tiger King/Netflix


It’s a documentary that’s reminiscent of a Seth Rogen-written comedy—a polygamist, gay zoo manager/country musician/failed politician is embattled with a colorful animal rights activist whose ex-husband mysteriously disappeared over a decade ago. “Tiger King” provides an entertaining look into dangerous and corrupted world of breeding, raising and profiting from big game animals (with a peek at quasi-cults and alleged murder and murder-for-hire schemes), but it begs the question: where do we draw the line between domestic and exotic pets?


The term “exotic” is a gray area to begin with, as it encapsulates everything from bearded dragons to a lions. While the documentary focuses mainly on big cats, it does feature monkeys and alludes to alligators that are kept in the same building as a recording studio. The idea of "exotic" varies from person-to-person. The more vanilla folks consider snakes and lizards exotic, while the more adventurous types expand the definition to encompass tigers and apes.


While the first thought may be to defer to legal classifications, that too becomes murky as each state has its own laws about which animals are allowed to be domesticated. Though there’s no laws that say a resident of North Dakota can’t have a pet monkey, the housing conditions and property size have to be brought under consideration—just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.


“Tiger King” also calls the legitimacy of zoos into question, as each one shown is categorically different than the last. According to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Code of Ethics, zoos should, “promote the interests of wildlife conservation, biodiversity, and animal welfare to the public and colleagues” and “endeavor at all times to improve zoos and aquariums”, which is quite different from the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park going through Wal-Mart’s expired meat trucks to find food for their animals due to budgetary restrictions.


In my eyes, it’s simple: If an exotic animal can’t be provided with a comparable lifestyle to what it would have in its natural habitat, it shouldn’t be kept in captivity. 


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