Given the layers of bizarre spectacle in Netflix’s Tiger King, it can be easy to forget the core reality that made Joseph Maldonado-Passage, known as Joe Exotic, the show’s focus to begin with: the fact that private owners can open zoos full of exotic animals — the conditions of which vary widely — from seemingly professional to downright grim. “Though it touches on the abuse of exotic animals and the problematic aspects of owning them, Tiger King doesn’t dig as deeply into those issues as it could have,” Jen Chaney wrote in her Vulture review of the hit Netflix docuseries. In a new prison interview with Netflix, recorded March 22 and released Friday, Joe Exotic himself seems to recognize the toll captivity took on his menagerie, saying he’s “ashamed of myself.”
“Go sit in a cage with your animals for a week,” advises Exotic. “I mean, when I left the zoo and I sent my chimpanzees to the sanctuary in Florida and imagined what my chimpanzees went through for 18 years, I’m ashamed of myself.” The statement echoes a moment in the final episode of Tiger King, in which Exotic recalls seeing his two chimps hugging one another after being caged separately for over a decade. “Did I deprive them of that for ten years? Yes,” he says. “Did I do it on purpose? No. I was wrapped up in having a zoo.”
When asked about his sudden TV fame, Exotic laughs: “You know, it would be nice if I could actually see me being famous out there, but I’ve seen these same four walls for a year and a half now.” Joe Exotic also thanks his husband Dillion Passage for his support, and declares that he will be exonerated for the murder-for-hire plan to kill animal rights activist Carole Baskin, in addition to animal abuse charges related to violating the Endangered Species Act, for which he is currently serving 22 years.
“I’m done with the Carole Baskin saga,” Exotic alleges. “It’s now time to turn the tables, and Joe get out of jail a free man and exonerated from all these charges.”