Carole Baskin: 'Tiger King' star on haters, tiger attacks, Mighty Mussels appearance
People love to hate “Tiger King” star Carole Baskin.
She knows it, she says. That’s why she’s not worried about throwing out the first pitch Friday at a Mighty Mussels game.
If her pitch goes wild, so what?
It’ll make it more fun for all the haters in the stands.
“Even if it’s absolutely horrible, it’ll be great for the audience,” Baskin says. “So if there’s anybody in the crowd who hates me, they will love the way I throw (laughs).”
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Baskin has been dealing with people’s hate and accusations ever since appearing in the 2020 Netflix documentary series “Tiger King."
The show followed her antagonistic relationship with Oklahoma zoo owner Joe Exotic, now in prison for a murder-for-hire plot to kill Baskin. It also speculated that Baskin murdered her former husband — a charge Baskin has vehemently denied. Police have said she is not a suspect in the missing-person case.
That speculation, Baskin says, is where all the hatred comes from (although she does have lots of fans and supporters, too). “Ever since ‘Tiger King,’ people make all kinds of accusations.”
One thing they won’t have to speculate about is Baskin’s sports skills. They can see for themselves when the animal-welfare activist throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Friday’s Mighty Mussels game.
Baskin won’t do a public meet-and-greet, but the baseball game doubles as a fundraiser for her Tampa area charity, Big Cat Rescue. The Mussels will wear custom tiger-print jerseys and hats, which will be auctioned off after the game to benefit her sanctuary for tigers and other big cats.
During a 25-minute interview, Baskin talked extensively about how she’s preparing for her Mussels appearance, “Tiger King,” recent Southwest Florida tiger attacks and more. Here’s what she had to say.
You're throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game. Have you ever done that before?
No, actually, I’ve never been asked to do anything sports-related other than 'Dancing with the Stars' (she competed on the show in 2020), and those people are athletes, let me tell ya. So I was really shocked when they reached out to me about throwing the pitch, and I was really nervous about it.
So they sent out their Mussel Man mascot and the owner of the team and (team president) Chris Peters to show me how to throw a ball. Hopefully, I won’t embarrass all of us too badly.
How did you do with your training?
It was pretty ugly (laughs). But they were really encouraging me. At least I could get it down to where the catcher was. … They left the ball with me, so I’m gonna do a little more practice.
You’ll be raising money for Big Cat Rescue at the game. Why are donations so important?
We have to raise between $3.5 to 4 million every year to take care of the 50 exotic cats we have here at the sanctuary and run all of our programs. We donate to conservation in the wild. And we do a lot of lobbying to try to end the trade in big cats. All of that is just as expensive as it’s ever been.
But because we’ve been closed to the public due to COVID, we’re losing over $1 million a year in revenue from the tour revenue. Cats can contract COVID and die from it, so we’re not about to open back up — even though a lot of the zoos have.
They have cats that are dying there because people are coming there and exposing them. We don’t want to do that with our cats. So we’re really struggling to find other ways to make up that million dollars.
Changing the subject: We’ve had a couple of high-profile tiger attacks in Southwest Florida recently. Do you want to say anything about them?
These things are just bound to happen when you have big cats in captivity, because the cats are gonna do what big cats are gonna do. And that is, they’re going to chomp down on anything that comes into their environment.
That’s why I think it’s so important we stop the practice of breeding big cats for life in cages. Because it’s a danger to the public. It’s cruel to the animals. It doesn’t serve any kind of conservation purpose, because none of those cats are ever going to be set free.
Let’s talk about your 2021 documentary series, “Carole Baskin's Cage Fight,” and also the new TV series “Joe vs. Carole.” With the documentary, you've said you wanted to get more of your side of the story out there.
So after I saw “Tiger King,” I was really upset by virtue of the fact that we had worked with those producers for five years on what they said was going to be a film called “Stolen World” or “Stolen Wildlife,” and it was gonna be about how all of this breeding and cub petting (the practice of letting people pet big-cat cubs at zoos) is causing the extinction of the tiger. That’s what we thought we were working on. …
And when we got through watching it, my husband and I just looked at each other and said, ‘Well, that was a missed opportunity.’ Because I felt like it was such a runaway hit that people were really enamored with it, and I thought, if people knew the truth about what really goes on and how vicious … all these people are that are breeding these cats.
They talked about Joe Exotic wanting to kill me, and it’s like, that’s just one of a bunch of people who have threatened to kill me (laughs). Because they don’t want me talking about the fact that big cats don’t belong in cages.
So that was why we did “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight.” We wanted the public to see this is a really horrible world of abuse for the animals and a bunch of people I think of as outright criminals that are running these enterprises.
What do you think about “Joe V. Carole” (streaming now on Peacock)?
Wundery (which also did the 2019 podcast “Over My Dead Body: Joe Exotic") came to us and said they’d like to purchase my life rights to do a movie. And I said, ‘My life is not over yet.’ (laughs) I’ve got some work to do! And then they said, ‘Well, we’re gonna do it anyway.' So what could I do?
So they did it. I didn’t participate in it. They didn’t ask me questions or anything. But some of the interviews that I saw Kate McKinnon (who plays Carole) do afterward said that she had been watching my diary, which is on YouTube.
So I thought, well, that was really great that they at least used true elements from my diary. But the diary has only been published up to 2016, so most of the stuff that happened with Joe was after 2016 and they never got to see it, because it hasn’t been recorded yet. But it was a hundred times more true than 'Tiger King' was.
How do you feel about how Kate McKinnon portrayed you?
Well, I was very flattered that such a beautiful and talented person would play me, because I thought it would be somebody older and much less funny (laughs). I’m not a funny person! In fact, I was really hoping she might be able to give me a sense of humor, which apparently they decided that I have.
Is it weird seeing someone playing you on TV?
I think that they really went overboard in trying to both humanize me and Joe Exotic. I appreciated the effort that she put into portraying who I am and the way I am.
I'm out of questions, Carole. Is there anything else you want to talk about?
Well, the biggest thing we’re working on is our Big Cat Public Safety Act [a federal bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020, but so far not passed by the Senate]. That will ban cub petting and phase out private ownerships. We have the most co-sponsors we’ve ever had — over 300 across the House and Senate now — and we are hoping to really get that done this year. …
It would ban cub petting and then it phases out private ownership. So people who have them (big cats) can keep them. They just couldn’t buy or breed more. It doesn’t effect the zoos or anything, as much as I’d love to end that whole industry. I think that’ll have to be through public pressure, not through laws.
What is cub petting, exactly?
It’s the reason Joe Exotic and all these guys want to kill me. They make a lot of money by breeding — speed-breeding — tiger cubs just like you would speed-breed puppies at a puppy mill.
And they can only use them between 8 weeks and 12 weeks, according to USDA, and so that means they have to constantly be breeding more, which means they have to constantly be getting rid of cubs.
So these are literally places where you can go pet a tiger cub?
All right, Carole, thanks so much for talking to me! Enjoy your time here in Fort Myers.
Oh, I will!
— This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at email@example.com or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).
If you go
Who: Carole Baskin of “Tiger King” throws out the first pitch at a Mighty Mussels baseball game
When: 7 p.m. Friday, April 15
Where: Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex, 14400 Six Mile Cypress Parkway, south Fort Myers
Info: 768-4210 or milb.com/fort-myers