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Joe Exotic

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Joe Exotic
Joe Exotic (Santa Rose County Jail).png
Joe Exotic's 2018 mugshot
Joseph Allen Schreibvogel

(1963-03-05) March 5, 1963 (age 57)
Other names
  • Joseph Allen Maldonado
  • Joe Exotic
  • The Tiger King
  • Aarron Alex
  • Cody Ryan[1]
Political party
Travis Maldonado
(m. 2015; died 2017)

Dillon Passage
(m. 2017)
Partner(s)Brian Rhyne (1986–2001)
JC Hartpence (2002–2003)
John Finlay (2003–2014)
ChildrenBrandon Chappell
Criminal statusIncarcerated at Federal Medical Center, Fort Worth
Criminal chargeMurder for hire
Animal abuse
Penalty22 years
Date apprehended
September 7, 2018

Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage ( Schreibvogel; born March 5, 1963), better known by his stage name Joe Exotic, is an American former zoo operator and convicted felon. The former owner and operator of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (a.k.a. G. W. Zoo) in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, Maldonado-Passage had claimed to be the most prolific breeder of tigers in the United States.[1] Before working with animals, he was a police officer, briefly serving as the chief of police in Eastvale, Texas.[2][3] Maldonado-Passage has had three unsuccessful runs for public office: for President of the United States in 2016 as an independent and for Governor of Oklahoma in 2018 as a Libertarian; in 2017, before officially entering the race for Governor, he filed as a candidate seeking the Libertarian nomination for President.[4]

In 2019, Maldonado-Passage was convicted on 17 federal charges of animal abuse (eight violations of the Lacey Act and nine of the Endangered Species Act)[5] and two counts of murder for hire for a plot to kill Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin.[5] He is serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison. In 2020, Netflix released an eight-part documentary, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, focused on Maldonado-Passage, his zoo, and his feud with Baskin.

Early life

Maldonado-Passage was born Joseph Allen Schreibvogel in Garden City, Kansas, on March 5, 1963.[6][7][8] He grew up on a working farm in Kansas. When he was five years old, he was raped by an older boy.[1] He and his family moved to Texas, where he joined the Eastvale, Texas, police department, soon becoming chief of the small department. He has said that after being outed to his parents as gay by one of his siblings, he attempted suicide by crashing his police cruiser into a bridge.[2] His claims about the wreck have changed over time: in 1997, he told The Dallas Morning News that someone forced the car off the bridge during a police drug investigation. Local residents who were contacted had no recollection of the event.[3]



Schreibvogel worked at various jobs before opening a pet store with his brother Garold in Arlington, Texas, in 1986.[2] In 1997, after closing the first pet store and opening a new one nearby, Schreibvogel came into conflict with Arlington officials over repeated code violations for decorations and signs: he had been hanging gay pride symbols such as a United States flag with rainbow stripes in the store windows; he accused city inspectors of homophobia and of targeting the business because of his sexual orientation.[3] After his brother's death in a car accident in 1997, Schreibvogel sold the pet store and purchased a 16-acre (6.5 ha) Oklahoma farm with his parents.[2][3] Two years after his brother's death, the farm opened as Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park in dedication to his brother.[2][9] Two of Garold's pets were the zoo's first inhabitants.[2]

In February 1999, animal welfare investigators discovered a large number of neglected emus in Red Oak, Texas, and Schreibvogel volunteered to capture the animals and take them to his animal park. However, Schreibvogel, local volunteers, and Red Oak police were quickly overwhelmed by the task of corralling the large and fast-running birds, several of which died. Schreibvogel and another man resorted to killing emus with shotguns and were accused of animal cruelty by police. However, since the emus were considered livestock, they could lawfully be killed humanely in Texas, and a grand jury declined to indict Schreibvogel. Most surviving birds ultimately wound up at Texas ranches.[3]

In 2000, Schreibvogel acquired his first two tigers, which had been abandoned.[2] To feed his growing zoo of big cats, he took in horses that were donated to him. He would shoot the horses and feed them whole to the tigers, lions, and other big cats.[1]

For over 20 years he was known as Joe Exotic, the owner and operator of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (a.k.a. G.W. Zoo), known for its big cats. He operated an online reality television show that he streamed from his zoo. Over the years, he operated sideshows around the country, allowing people to pet tiger cubs. He also staged shows at fairs and in shopping malls.[10]

In 2006, the G.W. Zoo was cited multiple times by the USDA for violations of Animal Welfare Act standards.[11] In 2011, Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Florida, organized protests against his use of cubs in his shows. To retaliate, Maldonado-Passage used the Big Cat Rescue name and various identifying aspects of the sanctuary's branding in his own marketing. Baskin sued Maldonado-Passage for trademark infringement and eventually was ruled to be entitled to $1 million in settlement compensation from him, although she was unable to collect most of it.[10]


Maldonado-Passage was an aspiring country singer. Under the pretense of obtaining music for a planned reality television series, he commissioned country songs from other artists, with his creative contributions reportedly being limited to suggesting song topics and singing some backing vocals. He produced music videos for the songs and posted them on YouTube, depicting himself as the main performer and taking full credit for the music, allegedly without having notified the actual artists.[12] In 2015, he released a video for the song "Here Kitty Kitty", a diss track against Carole Baskin. In the video, he had a Baskin lookalike feeding her second husband, Don Lewis, to the tigers. Lewis has been missing since 1997,[13] and was declared legally dead in 2002.[14] This song was humorously covered by the band The Offspring after the release of Tiger King.


Maldonado-Passage, running as Joseph Allen Maldonado, ran as an independent candidate in the 2016 election for President of the United States, attaining ballot access in Colorado and receiving 962 votes (including recorded write-ins) nationwide.[15]

He then ran as Joe Exotic in the 2018 Libertarian Party primary election for Governor of Oklahoma. He received 664 votes in the primary, finishing last among the three Libertarian candidates.[16][17][10] During his primary campaign, he was officially censured by the Oklahoma Libertarian Party.[18] In 2019, following his arrest, the state convention voted unanimously to revoke his party membership.[19]

Initial primary results by county:
2018 Libertarian gubernatorial primary[20]
Party Candidate Votes %
Libertarian Chris Powell 1,740 48.9
Libertarian Rex L. Lawhorn 1,154 32.4
Libertarian Joseph Allen Maldonado 664 18.7
Total votes 3,558 100%


On the issue of gun rights, Maldonado-Passage believes that people have a constitutional right to bear arms. However, he believes felons, the mentally ill, physical abusers, and sexual abusers should not have guns.[21] The National Rifle Association has rated Maldonado-Passage 0%.[21][where?] He believes the Affordable Care Act is a "joke" and supports a universal healthcare system, citing the United Kingdom's and Canada's healthcare systems as appropriate models.[21] On abortion rights, he believes that as long as a fetus is "not viable and not considered living or if there is a severe birth defect that is not going to allow it to have any quality of life" a woman should be allowed to choose abortion.[21]

Arrest, conviction, and imprisonment

Carole Baskin in 2019, the target of Maldonado-Passage's murder-for-hire plot

Joseph Maldonado-Passage was indicted and arrested on September 7, 2018, in Gulf Breeze, Florida, as a result of investigation by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, and the U.S. Marshals Service. Maldonado-Passage had tried to hire an undercover FBI agent to murder his nemesis, Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue. A federal jury found him guilty on two counts of hiring someone to murder Baskin in Florida, on eight counts of violating the Lacey Act by falsifying wildlife records, and on nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act by killing five tigers and for selling tigers across state lines.[22][23] He was sentenced to 22 years in prison on January 22, 2019.[24] As of March 2020, he is incarcerated at FMC Fort Worth.[25] In June 2020, Baskin received control of Joe Exotic's zoo property.[26] The same month, President Donald Trump described Joe Exotic as a "strange guy" but did not state if he would consider pardoning him.[27]

In March 2020, Maldonado-Passage filed a lawsuit against those he blamed for his arrest and conviction, including "the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, his lead prosecutor, a federal agent, former business partner Jeff Lowe and others"; he sought $94 million;[28] he dropped the lawsuit five months later.[28]

Personal life

Joe Exotic reporting on a tornado in 2016, from a video posted on his YouTube channel

Maldonado-Passage (né Schreibvogel) is openly homosexual, although prior to dating men he fathered a son, Brandon Chappell (born c. 1982), with his girlfriend Kim.[29] Maldonado-Passage has referred to numerous partners as his husbands despite not being legally married.[30] His first known partner was Brian Rhyne, who died of complications from HIV in 2001.[1] The following year, he started a relationship with J.C. Hartpence, an event manager who aided him with his traveling animal show. In mid-2003, John Finlay was hired as an employee of the G.W. Zoo and within a month had begun a relationship with Schreibvogel. By this point, the relationship between Schreibvogel and Hartpence had deteriorated owing to drug and alcohol addiction. It finally ended after Joe Exotic threatened to kill Hartpence and feed his remains to the zoo's largest tiger; Hartpence later woke Schreibvogel up by putting a gun to his head, an action that led to Hartpence's arrest by the local authorities. Hartpence was later convicted of child molestation and first-degree murder.[2]

Travis Maldonado arrived at the zoo in December 2013 and, like Finlay, rapidly began a relationship with Schreibvogel.[2] Schreibvogel, Maldonado, and Finlay were unofficially married to each other less than a month later in a three-partner wedding ceremony.[2] Joe Exotic and Finlay eventually fell out, and following an incident in the zoo's back parking lot Finlay was arrested and charged with assault and battery. In 2015, Joe Exotic legally wed Maldonado and his legal name became Joseph Maldonado.[2] As revealed in Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, neither Finlay nor Travis Maldonado identified as gay and both had affairs: Finlay had impregnated the zoo's receptionist (which was one of the reasons leading to his departure), and Travis Maldonado was regularly having sex with multiple women on the grounds of the zoo. On October 6, 2017, Travis Maldonado died at the zoo in an accident involving a firearm[31] in front of Joe Exotic's campaign manager.[32] Joe Exotic married Dillon Passage on December 11 of the same year; one of the witnesses was Travis Maldonado's mother.[31][2][33] Upon his marriage to Passage, Joe Exotic's legal surname became Maldonado-Passage.

Maldonado-Passage is an ordained minister in the state of Oklahoma and is able to officiate marriages; however, it is unclear if he ever has. He obtained his ministry license from the Universal Life Church. In the Tiger King series, he can be seen wearing a priest outfit.[34]


The 2020 documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is centered on Maldonado-Passage.[35][36] He had previously appeared in Louis Theroux's 2011 documentary America's Most Dangerous Pets.[37]



  • I Saw A Tiger (2014)
  • Star Struck (2015)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Moor, Robert (September 3, 2019). "American Animals Joe Exotic bred lions, tigers, and ligers at his roadside zoo. He was a modern Barnum who found an equally extraordinary nemesis". Intelligencer. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Reigstad, Leif (March 13, 2019). "Joe Exotic: A Dark Journey into the World of a Man Gone Wild". Texas Monthly. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e Steele, Tom (April 3, 2020). "Before he was Joe Exotic, 'Tiger King' star owned Arlington pet stores". The Dallas Morning News. Dallas, Texas. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  4. ^ "FEC FORM 2 : STATEMENT OF CANDIDACY" (PDF). January 13, 2017. Retrieved March 28, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Brulliard, Karin (January 22, 2020). "Zookeeper who killed tigers and tried to have rival murdered is sentenced to 22 years in prison". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
  6. ^ Gajanan, Mahita (March 24, 2020). "The Wild Story Behind Netflix's New Docuseries 'Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness'". Time. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  7. ^ "The Voter's Self Defense System". Vote Smart. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  8. ^ "The Bizarre Crimes Of Joe Exotic, The 'Gay, Gun-Toting Cowboy With A Mullet'". All That's Interesting. November 8, 2018. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  9. ^ Kaplan, Michael (March 19, 2020). "Everything you need to know about Netflix's new Joe Exotic doc, 'Tiger King'". New York Post. Retrieved March 20, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c Guynup, Sharon (November 14, 2019). "Captive tigers in the U.S. outnumber those in the wild. It's a problem". National Geographic. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
  11. ^ "AWA Docket No. 05-0014 Consent Decision and Order" (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture. January 26, 2006. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  12. ^ Adams, Sam. "Behind the Music of the Tiger King". Slate. Retrieved April 8, 2020.
  13. ^ Bruney, Gabrielle (March 28, 2020). "Joe Exotic's 'Here Kitty Kitty' Music Video Might Be the Best Part of Tiger King". Esquire. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  14. ^ "Disappearance on Easy Street". WTSP. November 1, 2002. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  15. ^ "Election and voting information" (PDF). Federal Electoral Commission.
  16. ^ "State Election Results, Statewide Primary Election, June 26, 2018". Retrieved April 5, 2020.
  17. ^ Clay, Nolan (April 3, 2019). "Joe Exotic found guilty in murder-for-hire case". The Oklahoman. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  18. ^ Ballard, Dorothy (April 9, 2018). "Castaldo elected Libertarian national delegate - Plans run for Congress". Miami News Record. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  19. ^ Lawhorn, Rex (April 23, 2020). "I Ran for Governor of Oklahoma Against Tiger King's Joe Exotic". Reason. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  20. ^ "Oklahoma Results: September Primaries". Government of Oklahoma.
  21. ^ a b c d "The Voter's Self Defense System". Vote Smart. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  22. ^ U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Oklahoma (April 3, 2019). ""Joe Exotic" Convicted Of Murder-For-Hire And Violating Both The Lacey Act And Endangered Species Act". United States Department of Justice.
  23. ^ Madani, Doha (January 22, 2020). "Wildlife park owner 'Joe Exotic' sentenced to 22 years in plot to kill animal rights activist". NBC News. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  24. ^ U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Oklahoma (January 22, 2020). "'Joe Exotic' Sentenced to 22 Years for Murder-For-Hire and for Violating the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act". United States Department of Justice.
  25. ^ "Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator, Register Number: 26154-017".
  26. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (June 2, 2020). "Carole Baskin Wins Control of Joe Exotic's Former Zoo In Oklahoma". Deadline. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  27. ^ Aamer Madhani (June 18, 2020). "Trump Says He's Heard 'Interesting' Things About Roswell". Associated Press.
  28. ^ a b Nolan Clay, Joe Exotic drops civil rights lawsuit, The Oklahoman (August 26, 2020).
  29. ^ Fitzsimons, Billi (April 14, 2020). ""He treated his son worse." Everything we know about Joe Exotic's 'secret son' Brandon". MSN.
  30. ^ Turner, Laura Jane (April 1, 2020). "The Tiger King documentary left out information about Joe Exotic and his husbands". Digital Spy. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  31. ^ a b Patrick (December 7, 2017). "Joe Exotic is getting married on Monday…". The Lost Ogle. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  32. ^ Keeping, Juliana (October 7, 2017). "Shooting death at Wynnewood zoo under investigation". The Oklahoman. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  33. ^ "Tiger King on Netflix: what happened to Joe Exotic's husbands John Finlay and Travis Maldonado?".
  34. ^ "So Why Exactly Does Joe Exotic Have A Priest Outfit?". Oxygen Official Site. March 27, 2020. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  35. ^ "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness". Netflix. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  36. ^ Miller, Julie (March 10, 2020). "Netflix's Wild Tiger King Is Your Next True Crime TV Obsession". Vanity Fair. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  37. ^ "Joe Exotic, tiger breeder who appeared in Louis Theroux documentary, facing trial over alleged murder plot". ABC News. Retrieved March 27, 2020.

External links