Mesker Park Zoo officials react to “Tiger King”


EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT)- Thanks to the largely bizarre life of Joe Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, “Tiger King: Murder, Madness and Mayhem” has quickly become one of the most popular documentaries on Netflix.

However, officials at Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville say roadside zoos like the ones depicted in the documentary or private collections can be dangerous for the owners and the animals.

Executive Director Erik Beck says “people housing dangerous exotic animals in the private sector are posing not only a risk to their neighbors, the general public… and also then they’re obviously posing a large risk to the animals they care for.”

Beck says Indiana is lagging behind neighbors like Illinois and Ohio in terms of legislation regulating the private ownership of exotic animals. However, he says there is a bill on the federal level that is supported by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that would strengthen those regulations nationwide.

“At Mesker Park Zoo, we pride ourselves on our [Association of Zoos and Aquariums] accreditation… there’s an extremely strict set of standards that you have to hold yourselves to,” Mesker Park Zoo marketing director Danny Schembre says, “then you go through and watch something like the ‘Tiger King’ and you’re seeing the way some of these zoos that, in no way shape or form maintain that accreditation and just how lax they are with the rules. It’s just kind of sad to see.”

Eyewitness News reached out to Wildlife in Need, a southern Indiana roadside zoo featured in “Tiger King” for comment but have not heard back.

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(This story was originally published on April 1, 2020)

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