Joe Exotic

Joe Exotic
Joe Exotic (Santa Rose County Jail).png
Mugshot of Exotic, 2018
Joseph Allen Schreibvogel

(1963-03-05) March 5, 1963 (age 58)
Other names
  • Joseph Allen Maldonado
  • Joe Exotic
  • The Tiger King
  • Jim Hopper
  • Cody Ryan[1]
Known forInvolvement in Tiger King
Political party
Criminal charge(s)Murder for hire
Animal abuse
Criminal penalty22 years
Criminal statusIncarcerated at Federal Medical Center, Fort Worth
Travis Maldonado
(m. 2015; died 2017)

Dillon Passage
(m. 2017)
Partner(s)Brian Rhyne (1986–2001)
JC Hartpence (2002–2003)
John Finlay (2003–2014)
Parent(s)Francis Schreibvogel
Shirley Schreibvogel
RelativesGarold Wayne Schreibvogel (brother)

Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage ( Schreibvogel; born March 5, 1963), known professionally as Joe Exotic, is an American former zoo operator, activist and convicted felon. The former owner and operator of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (a.k.a. G. W. Zoo) in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, Exotic 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] Exotic 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]

For over 20 years, Exotic was the owner and operator of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, 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.[5] In 2019, Exotic was convicted on 17 federal charges of animal abuse (eight violations of the Lacey Act and nine of the Endangered Species Act)[6] and two counts of attempted murder for hire for a plot to kill Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin.[6] He is serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison, and is currently undergoing treatment following a prostate cancer diagnosis.[7]

Exotic has been featured in numerous documentaries, the most notable of which being the Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (2020), a seven-part documentary about Exotic's career as a zookeeper and his feud with Baskin. The success of Tiger King amid the first worldwide COVID-19 lockdown led to Exotic receiving significant amounts of attention on social media, inspiring several internet memes. Exotic also appears in two Louis Theroux documentaries, America's Most Dangerous Pets (2011) and Shooting Joe Exotic (2021).

Early life

Joe Exotic was born Joseph Allen Schreibvogel in Garden City, Kansas, on March 5, 1963,[8][9][10] to parents Francis and Shirley Schreibvogel.

Exotic 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 a homosexual 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. Residents who were contacted had no recollection of the event.[3]



Exotic worked at various jobs before opening a pet shop with his brother Garold in Arlington, Texas, in 1986.[2] In 1997, after closing the first pet shop and opening a new one nearby, Exotic 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 shop 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, Exotic sold the pet shop 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][11] 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 Exotic volunteered to capture the animals and take them to his animal park. However, Exotic, local volunteers, and Red Oak police were quickly overwhelmed by the task of corralling the large and fast-running birds, several of which died. Exotic 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 Exotic. Most surviving birds ultimately wound up at Texas ranches.[3]

In 2000, Exotic 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]

Exotic 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.[12]

In 2006, the G.W. Zoo was cited multiple times by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for violations of Animal Welfare Act standards.[13] In 2011, Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Florida, organized protests against his use of cubs in his shows. To retaliate, Exotic used the Big Cat Rescue name and various identifying aspects of the sanctuary's branding in his marketing. Baskin sued Exotic 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.[5]

In 2016, Exotic's business partner Jeff Lowe changed the name of the park to "Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park". Exotic left the zoo in June 2018,[non-primary source needed] and Lowe became the new owner of the zoo. Lowe remained as the zoo's owner until mid-2020 when a court awarded ownership of the property to the Baskins, and Lowe's USDA exhibitor's license was suspended due to poor veterinary care; rather than contesting the suspension, Lowe permanently shut down the park on August 18.[14][15]

In 2021, Exotic stated that his whole outlook on animals in captivity has changed while he's been in jail, and he now believes that "no animal belongs in a cage". He also said that he would've never had a zoo if he knew what life inside a cage was like 20 years ago.[16]


During his career as a zoo owner, Exotic was also 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 his YouTube channel, depicting himself as the main performer and taking full credit for the music, allegedly without having notified the actual artists.[17]

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,[18] and was declared legally dead in 2002.[19] This song was humorously covered by the band The Offspring after the release of Tiger King. Another well-known song by Exotic is "I Saw A Tiger", which has been covered by numerous bands and artists.[20][21]


On March 3, 2021, Exotic announced his autobiography Tiger King: The Official Tell-All Memoir, which will be released on November 9.[22][23][24][25][26] In prison, Exotic is allowed to use a computer for 30 minutes at a time, so has been working on his book every day.[27]


Joe Exotic's Presidential Ad
     The first thing is, I am not cutting my hair. I am not changing the way I dress, I refuse to wear a suit. I am gay, I've had two boyfriends most of my life… I've had some kinky sex, I've tried drugs.

I'm broke as shit, I have a judgement against me from some bitch down there in Florida, I paid the fine with the USJ… that does not mean I was convicted of any kind of animal cruelty thing. I have one of the biggest facilitates for exotic animals in this country as far as private individuals go.

I am Joe Exotic, and don't forget, I am now stepping my foot in the ring to run for President.

— Joe Exotic For President! 2016[28]

Exotic 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.[29]

He then ran 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.[30][31][5] During his primary campaign, he was officially censured by the Oklahoma Libertarian Party.[32] In 2019, following his arrest, the state convention voted unanimously to revoke his party membership.[33]

Initial primary results by county:
Chris Powell
  •   100%
  •   80–90%
  •   70–80%
  •   60–70%
  •   50–60%
  •   40–50%
Powell/Lawhorn tie
  •   <40%
  •   40–50%
  •   50%
Rex L. Lawhorn
  •   40–50%
  •   50–60%
  •   60–70%
  •   70–80%
  •   100%
Joseph Allen Maldonado
  •   40–50%
  •   70–80%
  •   100%
No votes
  •   No Votes
2018 Libertarian gubernatorial primary[34]
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, Exotic 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 access to guns.[35] 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.[35] 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.[35]

Arrest, conviction, imprisonment, and pardon attempts

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

Exotic was indicted and arrested on September 7, 2018, in Gulf Breeze, Florida, as a result of an 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. Exotic had tried to hire an undercover FBI agent to murder his nemesis, Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue, which ultimately failed and Baskin was not harmed. 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.[36][37] He was sentenced to 22 years in prison on January 22, 2019.[38] He was incarcerated at Federal Medical Center, Fort Worth (FMC Fort Worth).[39]

In June 2020, Baskin received control of Joe Exotic's zoo property.[40]

In March 2020, Exotic 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;[41] he dropped the lawsuit five months later.[41]

In April 2020, there were multiple cases of COVID-19 at Exotic's prison. For safety precautions, Exotic was moved from Grady County Jail in Oklahoma to Federal Medical Center and began a 14-day quarantine. Some fans speculated that Exotic himself had COVID-19, but Dillon confirmed he did not.[42][43]

In May 2020, a private investigator, attorneys representing Joe Exotic, and a group of volunteers—calling themselves "Team Tiger"—chartered a bus, traveled to Washington, D.C., and delivered a 257-page document to the U.S. Department of Justice disputing elements of his conviction, requesting a pardon from President Donald Trump.[44] The following month, Trump described Exotic as a "strange guy" but did not state if he would consider pardoning him.[45] On January 19, 2021, the day before the inauguration of Joe Biden, Team Tiger chartered a limousine in Fort Worth in preparation for Exotic's anticipated last-minute pardon and release. However, he ultimately was not pardoned and remained incarcerated at FMC Fort Worth.[44] He is seeking a pardon from current president Joe Biden.[46]

In 2021, Exotic hired new attorneys who plan to file a motion for a new trial in a matter of months.[47][48][49]

Personal life


Exotic is openly gay. He has referred to numerous partners as his husbands despite them not being legally married.[50]

His first known male 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 travelling 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 Exotic. By this point, the relationship between Exotic and Hartpence had deteriorated owing to drug and alcohol addiction. It finally ended after Exotic threatened to kill Hartpence and feed his remains to the zoo's largest tiger; Hartpence later woke Exotic 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 Exotic.[2] Exotic, Maldonado, and Finlay were unofficially married to each other less than a month later in a three-partner wedding ceremony.[2] Exotic and Finlay eventually fell out, and following an incident in the zoo's car park Finlay was arrested and charged with assault and battery. In 2015, Joe Exotic legally wed Maldonado and his legal name became Joseph Maldonado.[2] However, neither Finlay nor Travis Maldonado identified as homosexual and both had affairs with women: Finlay 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 zoo grounds.[51] On October 6, 2017, Travis Maldonado fatally shot himself at the zoo[52] in front of Josh Dial, who was Exotic's campaign manager at the time.[53] Exotic married Dillon Passage on December the 11th of the same year; one of the witnesses was Travis Maldonado's mother.[52][2][54] Upon his marriage to Passage, Joe Exotic's legal surname became Maldonado-Passage. In March 2021, Exotic and Passage's relationship experienced a strain after Passage did not answer one of Exotic's calls, with many people suspecting they had broken up. On Friday, March 26, Passage revealed on Instagram that he and Exotic are seeking a divorce, but on good terms and that he'll continue to have Exotic in his life.[55][56] The day after Passage announced that he and Joe Exotic were divorcing, Exotic’s lawyer Francisco Hernandez confirmed to Us Weekly on Saturday, March 27, that after a phone call between the couple, they decided they will "stay married right now so things don’t get complicated."[57]

Health problems

In January 2021, he was reportedly suffering from an unverified medical condition.[44][58] In March 2021, it was reported that he was suffering from a blood-immune disorder and was being refused treatment.[59]

On May 14, 2021, it was reported that Exotic had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and has approved testing to verify what stage it is in.[60][61][62]

In popular culture

Mainstream popularity

After the success of Tiger King, Exotic gained a large fanbase nationwide, and began to receive a large amount of fanmail.[63] Cardi B attempted to start a GoFundMe for Exotic to get him out of prison.[64][65]

Some of Exotic's fans turned on him after watching the 2021 Shooting Joe Exotic documentary, angry at some of the footage that was shown.[66]


Exotic with Louis Theroux, who visited the G.W. Zoo in the documentary America's Most Dangerous Pets.

Exotic first appeared in Louis Theroux's 2011 documentary America's Most Dangerous Pets.[67] Five years later, he appeared in J.D. Thompson's documentary The Life Exotic: Or the Incredible True Story of Joe Schreibvogel.[68][69][70]

The 2020 Netflix documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is centered on Exotic and his rivalry with Carole Baskin.[71][72] The series was released in March 2020, coinciding with the first worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns, which eventually caused both the series and Exotic himself to go viral. Numerous internet memes about both Exotic and Baskin were made. In a Netflix interview in prison, Exotic stated that he was thankful for the fame and that he was done with the Baskin saga.[73][74]

On April 5, 2021, British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux released a new documentary on Exotic, titled Shooting Joe Exotic, on BBC Two in the United Kingdom. The documentary contained unseen footage of Exotic from a previous documentary by Theroux, as well as new interviews of other people associated with Exotic, including Exotic's legal team and Howard and Carol Baskin, as well as a tour around the abandoned and extensively vandalized former G.W. Zoo property.[75]

Tiger King crypto coin

In May 2021, a Tiger King crypto coin known as "$TKING" was launched on the official Joe Exotic website. Exotic's team running the website confirmed all revenue from the coin goes towards Exotic’s defense fund, as well as charity incentives personal to him. According to Exotic's team, the total supply of $TKING coins is one trillion.[76]



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


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