The latest chapter of the infamous feud between big cat enthusiasts turned reality TV stars Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin unfolded in the Western District of Oklahoma Federal Court recently.
In the outcome of a protracted legal battle documented on the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King, eccentric roadside zoo owner Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, has been ordered to hand over his property to conservationist and sworn enemy, Carole Baskin. This twist is as riveting as the action offered by online pokies, and once again throws the cat amongst the pigeons between the feuding pair.
The basis for Baskin’s case is trademark infringement on the part of Maldonado-Passage back in 2013. At the time, he was convicted of using Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue Corporation’s logo and name to promote his own venue. Maldonado-Passage’s own G.W. Exotic was ordered to pay $1 million in damages to Big Cat Rescue.
The former then created an entirely new business entity, Garold Wayne Zoo in an attempt, according to Baskin, to dodge the ruling. Baskin subsequently sued Maldonado-Passage for this action. When the court ruled this new entity liable for the former judgement, Maldonado-Passage joined forces with fellow big cat park proprietor, Jeff Lowe to form yet another new business, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.
In the meantime, Maldonado-Passage was sentenced to 22 years in prison for two counts of attempted murder-for-hire, alongside several charges of animal abuse. Shortly before this, Maldonado-Passage found himself on the outs with Lowe over the management of their shared zoo.
Fraudulent Property Transfer
Once attempts to collect on the judgement turned to asset seizure, Maldonado-Passage’s mother and others assisted her son in transferring property ownership. In the case concluded on Monday, however, presiding judge, Scott L. Palk ruled that this transfer was fraudulent and therefore not binding.
Accordingly, Judge Palk ordered that Greater Wynnewood Development Group to surrender and vacate the park within 120 days.
Cats’ Fate Uncertain
While the judge ruled that the vacation of the 16.4-acre property is to include the removal of all zoo animals from the land, he was unclear about what should be done with these animals.
As such, it is not yet clear whether or not Baskin’s Big Cat rescue will be able to hold onto the cats. The Humane Society of the United States, which has been vocal in support of Baskin, has called for the transfer of the animals to proper sanctuaries to ensure that they will never again suffer at the hands of unqualified hucksters like Jeff Lowe and Joe Exotic.
While neither Baskin nor Maldonado-Passage have yet officially responded to calls for comment on Monday’s ruling, both have aired their views on the situation via informal channels.
Maldonado-Passage, who has maintained his innocence and appealed his attempted murder and animal abuse conviction, took to Twitter on Tuesday to make his opinion known. At the same time, he voiced his support of the current worldwide protests against police brutality, saying that while Baskin taking his zoo was a real tragedy, he also stands with those who have been hurt and killed fighting for what they believe in.
Big Cat Rescue, meanwhile, previously stated on its website that the global health crisis and the alleged misrepresentation of Baskin and the park in Tiger King have delivered a “double punch” to the entity. According to the post, it is uncertain whether Big Cat Rescue will ever be able to open its doors to the public again and that it has to let go of 10 of its 20 employees and contractors.
Baskin alleges that the Netflix documentary underplayed the abuses of Maldonado-Passage’s animals and misrepresented her intentions. She claims that the show depicted her as an opportunist, rather than a conservationist concerned only with the cats’ welfare. According to Baskin, this misrepresentation has even led to death threats.
In support of Baskin, animal-rights activists have welcomed the latest court ruling. According to Humane Society of the United States chief executive, Kitty Block, the ruling finally brings the curtain down on the cruel operation known as G.W. Exotic. And, justice has finally been served for Carole Baskin and the accredited sanctuaries that put animal welfare first.
Jeff Lowe has, as yet, declined to comment on the ruling.