There’s a lot much to unpack here. Over the weekend, the zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, formerly owned by Joe Exotic, star of the Netflix docu-series Tiger King, reopened for the first time since the show debuted (and went massively viral) in late March. The public’s fascination with Exotic, his rival Carole Baskin and their respective big cats coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, meaning the zoo was shuttered while public interest in it surged.
Stay-at-home orders are lifting in many states including Oklahoma, which gave most non-essential businesses permission to reopen starting May 1. And people flocked from all over the country to be the first to get a look inside the infamous zoo, according to TMZ. There were long lines to get into the facility, which professed to be following CDC social distancing and sanitation protocols. But photos and video taken inside the zoo and published by TMZ show people crammed together shoulder-to-shoulder, petting animals with no gloves or face masks in sight.
Exotic’s former business partner and the zoo's current owner, Jeff Lowe, changed its name from the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park to simply “Tiger King Park” in a savvy bit of rebranding. In January of this year, Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in prison for plotting to murder Baskin, killing five tigers and other crimes. According to The Oklahoman, he’s currently isolated amid coronavirus concerns at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. Visitors might not have gotten to meet the "Tiger King" himself last weekend, but TMZ reported other cast members, including Lowe's wife Lauren and zookeeper Erik Cowie, were on hand greeting guests.
It’s no mystery why hoards of people were dying to get a glimpse inside Exotic’s controversial domain. Tiger King became a sensation when it dropped, inspiring TikTok dances and all sorts of spoofs. Just this week, Nicholas Cage was tapped to play Exotic in a Tiger King film adaptation. The public cannot get enough of this ostentatious, problematic man. But, uh, what is unexplainable is why so many Tiger King fans seem willing to literally possibly die just to take a selfie with a Netflix-famous celebrity. Do these people not know that a tiger at the Bronx zoo tested positive for coronavirus? Between all the cub petting and non-mask-wearing that evidently went on at Tiger King Park over the weekend, there’s bound to be some human-to-feline transmission and vice versa. Yiiiiiiiikes.