Carole Baskin Discusses Her New Series, Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight – Exclusive Interview
Carole Baskin was catapulted to international fame with the release of Netflix’s “Tiger King,” but for the animal activist, the attention wasn’t all good. Initially, Joe Exotic was touted as the hero of the series, with Baskin framed as his arch nemesis. However, Joe Exotic, also known as Joseph Maldonado-Passage, has since been sentenced to 22 years in prison for murder-for-hire and for the unlawful deaths of several endangered animals. Meanwhile, Baskin has continued her pursuit to put an end to animal cruelty and to stop the breeding of endangered animals for profit.
Her new Discovery+ series, “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight,” follows the activist on her quest for justice post-“Tiger King,” and viewers might find themselves surprised at some of the things she finds on the site of Joe Exotic’s former zoo. In an exclusive interview with Looper, Carole Baskin opens up about receiving death threats after “Tiger King,” why she remains passionate about animal rights, and her hopes for the future.
Carole Baskin is continuing the fight
“Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” follows the aftermath of “Tiger King” and explores your continued fight against animal abuse. Why was it important for you to make your own show?
For years, people have been pitching me about the work that we do here at Big Cat Rescue, because we’re the people that go after these animal abusers and stand up to these bullies that beat up animals and hurt animals and do it all for money. And for years, we’ve been told that I was too controversial, but after “Tiger King” came out, I think people saw that controversy sells. And so it was time to actually talk about what we really do here. And so I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity in “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” to actually show people the real drama, the authentic fear, the kinds of crazy people that exploit these animals and the work that we’re doing to expose them and bring them to justice.
Your team investigated Jeff Lowe and tried to find evidence of wrongful deaths at Joe Exotic’s former zoo. It looked really grueling. Was it difficult to film?
It was extremely hard because from the minute I walked onto the property, I could just feel all of the abuse and all of the suffering that had happened there. And it’s one thing to know that intellectually, but it’s another to be holding the bones of these animals who have been shot in the head or bashed in the head with a bat or some blunt object, and to experience their suffering in that way was really hard. I’m not usually somebody who breaks down and cries, but I seem to do a lot of crying in “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight.”
On dealing with those murder rumors
Another thing you addressed in “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” was the fact that there was a huge media storm around you because of your portrayal in “Tiger King,” and the fact that rumors kept coming out and changing about what happened to your second husband, Don Lewis [who went missing in 1997]. How did you deal with seeing report after report suggesting that you were a murderer?
I was really shocked that the media especially would take the word of a bunch of animal abusing derelicts and run with that as their headline. I think I was naive in thinking that they would actually do some research on their own to find out that there’s clear evidence, that most of the things those people are saying are just either not true or totally baseless. And they didn’t spend five minutes worth of even checking into those things. So that was kind of shocking to me.
I think when people tune in to “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight,” what they’ll see is the truth and they’ll see it with their own eyes. It won’t just be some talking heads that are throwing accusations at somebody. It’s digging up the real evidence. It’s out there in the ditches, in the literal trenches and going through the records and exposing all of the abuse that was happening there for decades.
Howard Baskin is Carole's rock
“Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” shows your husband, Howard Baskin, in a different light; he didn’t really have a voice in “Tiger King.” In “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight,” he’s shown as your rock. He stands by you through the media accusations and in fighting animal abuse. How has being in the spotlight impacted your relationship, and how has he coped with all the wild speculation that’s been going on?
I think it’s been harder on Howard and on my daughter and my mother, of course, having people make such wild accusations when they know who I am and why these animal abusers say the kinds of things that they do. But I did notice that in “Cage Fight,” one of the happiest moments throughout the entire thing where I was just absolutely aglow was talking about Howard. And that’s because that’s how I feel about him. He is my rock and he has just been so helpful through all of this.
We are about as opposite as two people can be. In fact, I have a card here that says, “We may not be perfect, but we’re perfect for each other.” He just gave that to me on our anniversary because we’ve been together for 19 years now. But we are so opposite that we really do compliment each other well, where I’ll just run out into the face of danger and he’s like, “Well, how about we have a bodyguard with you?” Or “How about you wear a jacket or something?”
It was lovely to hear him talk in “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight,” because in “Tiger King,” it felt as though he was just this silent bystander.
I think that’s another difference that people are going to see between “Tiger King” and “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight.” In “Tiger King,” everybody was kind of reduced to a two dimensional caricature of who they were. Whereas in “Cage Fight,” everybody is really fleshed out for who they really are and all of the nuances of how this whole abusive industry started and where it’s going and what we need to do to end it.
On receiving death threats
People get to see a lot more of your emotional side in “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” because you get to be honest and speak to the viewers yourself. Do you think viewers still have misconceptions about you? And is there anything you’re hoping to set straight with this new series?
I don’t know how people will perceive me after seeing “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight,” but it really doesn’t matter because it’s not about me. I’m doing this because I can’t imagine a world with no tigers in the wild, no lions in the wild. And we are headed there in the next few years if we don’t end all of this cub petting that is causing this legal smoke screen for the illegal activities of poaching. And we all suffer when we lose those big cats, because they are the ones who keep our ecosystems intact. When you lose those top predators, the entire life support system of this planet fails. And that’s what’s important.
There’s a lot of negativity, especially on the internet. That can’t be easy to deal with.
Yeah. That’s been interesting. In person, everybody has been really sweet, but the people online, oh my gosh. I have three hours of people saying they want to kill me, they want to kill my family, they want to kill the cats. These were messages left on my phone that rang incessantly after “Tiger King” and already, just with the trailer out there for “Tiger King 2,” the hate has just taken a huge up tick.
Casting Carole Baskin
As well as “Tiger King 2,” they’re adapting “Tiger King” into movies and TV shows. If they made a movie about your life, what would you want it to show? Who would you like to play you, and who would you cast as Howard?
I can’t even think about doing a movie or piece on my life until I’ve done the things that I came here to do. And then I think it would be worthy of discussion. Right now, I’m just struggling against all of these bullies that are causing the extinction of the tiger. But until I succeed against them, it’s really not a story. As far as the person to play me, I think Meryl Streep has that kind of no nonsense attitude that I tend to take toward animal abuse. I don’t know how she feels about animal abuse, but she just seems like she doesn’t take much off of anybody. So I would see her as being somebody that could actually capture my personality. As far as Howie, he’s so strong and yet he’s so sweet. It’s like, Tom Hanks maybe. May not be much visual comparison there, but I think he could carry it.
Looking to the future
After “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight,” do you have any plans for other documentaries or TV projects, or would you consider reality TV again, after “Dancing with the Stars?”
Regardless of what happens with “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight,” I’m going to keep doing the work we’ve always been doing. And whether a film crew wants to come along with us or not, then that’s going to be up to them and up to the public as to whether or not they find it to be worthwhile, but I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing.
Anything else you want viewers to know about “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight?”
People are really going to love the characters that they meet in “Cage Fight” because they are so authentic and they are the kind of heroes that we need. They are people who will go up against the absolute worst element of society and stand for what’s right. And oh my gosh, we are in a time when we need heroes like that and they are going to love these people that are on my team.
“Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” streams exclusively on Discovery+.