Tiger King’s Rick Kirkham, during the reunion: Joe Exotic was terrified of big cats

Spoilers for Tiger King and for the reunion follow
The Tiger King reunion special wasn’t what I expected in that we didn’t get to see any of the people from the show interact. I was hoping for some kind of Zoom room where they would laugh and argue, but instead we got to see everyone talking to host Joel McHale separately. Joel said that Netflix mailed him an iPhone and told him to get to it, basically, and since everyone was wearing airpods I got the impression that was the extent of Netflix’s involvement. I hope they paid the people well since some of them were still struggling. The real standout was the filmmaker, Rick Kirkham, the guy who smoked throughout the show. He worked work on Inside Edition back in the day (I watched that all the time!) and as a director he knows how to give a compelling interview. He gave some good dirt on Joe Exotic.

McHale also spoke to Erik Howe, the zoo manager, Jeff and Lauren Lowe, the current owners, John Reinke, the double leg amputee who worked at the park, Saff Saffery, who had to have his arm amputated after a tiger attack, John Finlay, Joe’s ex, and Josh Dial, Joe’s campaign manager. Carole Baskin was barely mentioned and no one talked about Doc Antle. Everyone came off pretty well and like better people than they were portrayed on the show. John has new teeth and said that he’s been sober for almost five years. Josh also said he’s sober and never does drugs or meth. He’s trying to raise money for counseling after getting PTSD from seeing Travis shoot himself. Saff was the most gracious and kind, as you would expect. He said it didn’t bother him that the show used the wrong pronous for him and that he hoped Joe didn’t die in prison. He also highlighted Joe’s charity work. No one else mentioned that, they all said Joe was awful.

One thing that struck me is that McHale said that Tiger King was the biggest documentary of all time. It is the most-watched that’s for sure, which is insane. I want to focus on Rick Kirkland because his interview was the most interesting. Saff, Erik Howe and Jeff Lowe said that Joe regularly put animals down that didn’t need it. Rick confirmed that. This excerpt contains general details about animals being shot so you may want to skip it if that bothers you.

Rick Kirkland on working with Joe
I began to see him do things to animals that I knew was wrong. I sold out my own journalistic integrity by not going to authorities or to an animal rights activist.

This old woman had a horse, in a horse trailer, She pulled in one day and she was really upset, she was crying. [Joe told me to tape it] Joe went up and started giving her a hug. She said ‘Joe can you please take care of my horse. He needs to go out to pasture, he’s old and can you give him a good life?’ Joe’s like ‘I have plenty of land, of course we will. We’ll give the horse a great life out here.’ No sooner did that lady get off the park than Joe said ‘Rick, follow me.’ Walked right up to the horse trailer. Shot the horse dead and said ‘I don’t take care of nobody’s animals, now they’re tiger meat.’ and he had the horse fed to the tigers.

I saw him shoot two tigers. One of them because he was pissed off at the tiger because the tiger nearly bit him.

Joe is scared of big cats
Joe was terrified of big cats. He was scared to death of lions and tigers and in the shots you see in there where he’s in with the two tigers, the white one and the other one, the white one is blind and the other one is on tranquilizers. It’s idiotic to think how he’s became famous as “The Tiger King” when he’s so terrified of big cats. .

Joe asked him to kill Carole Baskin
He asked me to kill Carole one time. It was like a joke ‘I’ll make you a rich man if you kill Carole.’

[From Netflix]

The consensus was that Joe deserves to be in prison but also that he didn’t take care of the people who worked for him or the animals at all. Saff said that Joe never talked to him about it after he got attacked at the zoo and I assume Saff wasn’t offered compensation either. Saff had to watch the video of his attack over and over because it was turned into a safety video for new employees. Josh wasn’t offered any assistance by Joe or Jeff after Travis shot himself in front of him. Everything just seemed so toxic, dysfunctional and dangerous like you could lose your life or see someone die or get maimed in front of you at that place. Rick said he still has nightmares about it and that it’s been worse now that the show has aired. It just made me sad, and I doubt I could enjoy any kind of humorous spin on this, which you know is coming.




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11 Responses to “Tiger King’s Rick Kirkham, during the reunion: Joe Exotic was terrified of big cats”

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  1. Seraphina says:

    Saff is the person who struck me as highly evolved out of everyone. I was very impressed with his interview.

    I was left disappointed by the episode and I completely could see the tigers sedated for Joe to get in there with them. And then I found out he wasn’t doing the singing!!! I was dumbfounded. I mean Thai man is a legend in his own mind. That Jeff guy is also strange and dirty like Joe. I think Joe’s campaign manager was spot on that it depicted everyone for what they were.

  2. Rocķy says:

    I would have liked to se Joe’s current husband

  3. Allergy says:

    I hated Tiger King.

  4. GG says:

    I really feel for Josh’s situation and not having proper access to a trauma counselor after witnessing such a horrific accident. Am I surprised? No. Joe Exotic only cares about JOE. Having said that, I’m not sure if it’s fair to say Jeff is responsible for that since Josh wasn’t hired to work for the zoo and he was hired to work on joe’s campaign as a separate employee despite Joe using Zoo funds to finance the campaign. That doesn’t mean Josh is any less deserving of getting the healthcare he needs to make sense of his trauma though.

  5. Erinn says:

    I genuinely feel so bad for the people that were preyed upon in this show. I only got through 3 full episodes, and had to pull the plug 15 minutes into episode 4 because it was just WAY too upsetting.

    But it’s nice to see the staff is obviously much healthier and just doing better now overall. I think there were a lot of victims in this show. And a lot of what is essentially just cults operating. It’s terrifying.

    • Mel M says:

      Yeah my husband made it halfway through episode 2 and refuses to watch anymore. I have turned it on to try and finish but mostly when I’m cleaning or on my phone so I’m not 100% into it. I just really wanted to see the episode about caroles husband so I could understand all the internet memes lol. I haven’t finished and I’m not sure I will though. The part with Josh watching Travis kill himself is incredibly upsetting. But yeah, a lot of victims there but also a lot of awful people.

  6. Amelie says:

    I dunno if it was covered here but what Rick did not mention is that after he relocated to Texas once he left the zoo for good (that’s where he was being filmed for the documentary), his cabin mysteriously burned down and almost killed him (it killed his dog). A lot of former associates of Jeff and Joe had their houses mysteriously burn down (to my knowledge no one died). The fire seriously injured Rick and once he moved to Norway to be with his now Norwegian wife, he had all his operations post-fire done in Norway because of the excellent free health care. So I can see why he has been having nightmares about the zoo because it’s pretty clear someone affiliated with Joe (or Joe himself) tracked him down in Texas and tried to kill him.

    I’m surprised Eric Howe is still working for Jeff but I guess for him it really is all about the animals. He doesn’t care who he is working for as long as he gets to be with his big cats. I can’t remember if Saff confirmed if he was still working at the zoo too?

    I do feel incredibly sorry for Josh, it’s clear he desperately wants to get access to mental health care to process the trauma of watching Travis accidentally shoot himself. That was one of the most difficult and shocking moments of the documentary for me (apart from watching the tiger cubs be ripped from their mother) when you see his reaction on the video to Travis shooting himself (I can’t remember if we heard the audio of the shot or not). And it just shows you the kind of people Joe and Jeff are, not giving a s*** about Josh when he’s the one who witnessed it (I get Joe was grieving but seriously it was always about him). It is interesting though that Josh thought Joe would be his meal ticket into political campaigning–he did know what he was getting himself into (he even admits to it). A hard lesson to learn–stay away from crazy, you can’t profit off it because it will bite you in the butt.

  7. TitusPullo says:

    Joe Exotic, Doc, and all the rest of the cult leaders are disgusting, dysfunctional assholes who abused not only the animals in their care, but the humans too. I feel like the documentary really glossed over just how horribly Joe treated those tigers- like shooting 5 of them in the head- and I’m really grossed out by the “meme”ifying of all their bullshit. That includes Doc and his creepy harem. And while I appreciate Carol Baskin’s goals of getting rid of the ability to own big cats, she’s got a narcissism problem of her own with that whole “I’m a savior” mentality that she lets her volunteers and followers consistently push.

    I dipped my toe in that world once upon a time with a lady who bred savannah cats, servals, fennec foxes, & kinkajous, among other things. It was the worst experience of my life. It left me feeling like the majority of people who own exotics are narcissistic hacks with no interest in providing adequate mental or physical care for the animals they lock in cages. And I feel for the many people who had their lives impacted by being pulled into the orbits of these conmen.

  8. Feedmechips says:

    Saff definitely would have been able to file a workers’ compensation claim. Even Josh likely would have been considered a covered employee for WC purposes.

  9. Rapunzel says:

    I think Rick, Saff, and both John’s were the only decent people. Jeff seems like an ass, Josh was arrested for battery, and even though I feel for his PTSD, I also feel like he was exploiting Joe and didn’t care who he hurt to get his career going.

    Its Rick Kirkham, not Kirkland, btw. The article switches back and forth between correct and incorrect.

  10. Oliviajoy1995 says:

    My question is whose voice is that that Joe is using when he is “singing”? They said it wasn’t his voice, whose is it? I would like to have known if John and Travis were close at all and if John was upset when he heard of Travis’s passing. I also wanted to know if Joe kept John hooked on drugs too the way he kept Travis. The three main people in the story, Joe, Carol and the other guy with the sister wives situation happening all seemed like terrible people to me. It was like determining who was the lesser of all evils.