February 11, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Taryn Klanot

The first time I heard about  Joe Exotic was two years prior to the release of Netflix’s hit documentary “Tiger King.” I was training to be a volunteer at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Fla. when I heard a story about two chimpanzees who had just been rescued by the sanctuary.

The chimps, named Joe and Bo, had spent almost their entire lives living in two separate, small cages placed directly next to each other. That is, until their owner, Joe Exotic, surrendered them to the Center for Great Apes sanctuary in 2018.

Upon their arrival to the sanctuary, Joe and Bo were introduced for the first time without the confines of their cages, and the very first thing they did was hug. Every time I passed them during my time volunteering at the sanctuary, they were together, and they remain inseparable to this day.

Spending time with Joe and Bo exposed me to the horrifying impacts of the exotic animal trade first-hand, and it led me to be frustrated with Exotic for encouraging animal abuse. So, when Exotic became a household name in 2020 after the release of “Tiger King,” I was glad to see my feelings of frustration about his negative influence in the exotic animal trade spread.

Reaching over 30 million viewers in only the first 10 days of its release, “Tiger King” sparked heavy conversation amongst the public. However, even though people were engaging in important discussions about the exotic animal industry, the focus of these conversations often shifted away from the animals themselves and towards the absurdly entertaining drama surrounding Exotic and his cohort of peers, partners, and enemies.

Released this past November, the sequel “Tiger King 2” strays even further from the heart of this story, focusing on the downfall of these eccentric figures rather than the true victims: the tigers.

The tigers at Exotic’s road-side attraction, the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (also known as the GW Zoo), ultimately received the refuge they needed, but the rescue proves to be anti-climactic in the docuseries. The season spends only a few minutes discussing the relocation of the tigers, framing it to be less worthy of the celebration that it deserves.

Over 100 of the tigers that were rescued from the GW Zoo now live at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.

With Colorado College being only an hour-and-a-half drive from The Wild Animal Sanctuary, I encourage CC students to pay these tigers a visit. The sanctuary is open to the public every day of the week and gives visitors a chance to learn more about the famous tigers of “Tiger King,” who were too often overlooked or ignored in the series.

Along with these celebrity tigers, The Wild Animal Sanctuary houses over 50 other animals that were rescued from the GW Zoo, and many more animals that were rescued from similar situations. Spanning 789 acres, the sanctuary currently provides care for a grand total of 550 animals, all of which have been given the opportunity to live a better, fuller life.

Once again, I encourage you to take a day trip to The Wild Animal Sanctuary. Celebrate the rescue of Exotic’s tigers by learning their names, and then take a moment to appreciate the people behind the sanctuaries who dedicate their lives to helping animals that have fallen victim to the exotic animal industry.

Then, once you are home, share the stories you have learned about these animals. They deserve the spotlight.

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