American investigative journalist Lisa Guerrero has come after Hollywood for “fetishising” Joe Exotic, the central figure of Netflix’s documentary series Tiger King.

The doco details the life of Joe Maldonado Passage, popularly known as Joe Exotic. The former zookeeper is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for attempting to hire a man to kill his longtime rival Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue. He is also guilty of eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act.

It goes without saying that Tiger King is easily one of the few pop culture subjects that have broken through the constant news cycle of the coronavirus, because it is pure batshit content. In the United States alone, 34 million Americans watched the series in its first ten days on Netflix. So it’s hardly a surprise that Hollywood wants to get its claws in on the action. Joe himself, from prison, suggested Brad Pitt or David Spade play his part in any future film adaptation, which will probably happen. Let’s be real. Kate McKinnon has already been tapped to star as Carole in a television adaptation of the original Wondery podcast Joe Exotic: Tiger King. A reporter actually asked U.S. President Donald Trump if he might consider pardoning Joe. Netflix is airing a special after-show episode of Tiger King, called Tiger King and I on Sunday, featuring new interviews. It’s never going to end.

But after Rob Lowe teased his own version of Tiger King with American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy, Guerrero stepped in to remind people that Joe Exotic is actually a really fucked up person. She said 23 tiger cubs died in Exotic’s care and said she witnessed some of Exotic’s tiger cubs “suffering with diarrhoea, nausea, and fear in one of his ‘mall exhibitions’.

In later tweets, Guerrero absolutely acknowledged that Tiger King is a “pop culture phenomenon”, but said the documentary upset her because “I feel like it glamorised him. Our investigation did not.”

The Inside Edition says it has been investigating Joe since 2010 after 23 tiger cubs reportedly died in his care at The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.

When asked about the tiger cubs, Exotic didn’t deny their deaths. He blamed it on “bad formula”.

“You’ve had 23 tiger cubs die…do you think you’re a responsible owner of tigers?” Guerrero asked him.

“I damn sure do,” Exotic replied.

Inside Edition’s original coverage of Exotic details Guerrero’s experience when she visited one of the zoo’s “mall exhibitions”. She claimed one of the cubs on display was missing a patch of fur. When she asked one of the employees why a cub appeared to be sick and barely moving, the employee responded: “I don’t know. Maybe he’s just tired or stressed.”

Just this week, Exotic’s niece Chealsi Putman spoke out about her uncle, telling DailyMailITV that “Joe is 100 times worse” in real life.

“In the Tiger King Netflix series, you can see glimpses of his evil persona but in real-life Joe is 100 times worse. I want people to know who the real Joe Exotic is, not the one you’ve seen on TV,” she said. Putman also claimed that she helped the FBI catch Exotic when he was on the run in Florida.

Most disturbing, Putman alleged horrific treatment towards tigers while she worked odd jobs at the zoo. “I’ve personally witnessed Joe spray a tiger with a fire extinguisher, not out of safety or for a life saving reason, but because the tiger didn’t react the way Joe had wanted it to.”

Putman also claimed that when a tiger cub died, Joe froze the body and maybe sold it to a taxidermist. “Over the years there must have been at least 10 tiger cubs that he froze. I have no idea what happened to them, they would just disappear,” she said.

Image: Tiger King | Instagram @roblowe