A murder-for-hire plot and long-term abuse are in the rear view mirror for Pearl a recently rescued tiger who has gone from substandard housing at a now-closed Oklahoma “rescue” to life at the Wild Animal Sanctuary (TWAS) headquartered in Keenesburg, Colorado, which is likely the world’s largest sanctuary for carnivores rescued from abuse, substandard housing and malnutrition. In fact, Pearl will be one of the stars of a virtual event November 4 which will highlight her rescue and turn an angry eye toward the abusive animal trade.
The WAS website argues that the illegal animal trade ranks closely in size with the drug trade and the weapons trade in a deadly triangle that impacts both animals and humans. Animals the world over are trapped, bought and sold illegally and kept in deadly conditions for amusement and profit. For example, TWAS estimates that as many as 4,000 tigers are outside the zoo system in Texas alone, a number a bit larger than the estimated number of surviving wild tigers in the world.
A preview of the live feed and details of the event are available here at
Pearl’s story is unique but she is by no means alone. She was one of an estimated 1,400 animals who passed through the hands of Joseph Allan Maldonado Passage, who called himself “Joe Exotic” and “The Tiger King.” Passage ran the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood Oklahoma from 1998 to 2018. Promotional materials for the park claimed “You can get closer to these animals here than any other place in the world.” That was both the draw and the problem as getting close included swimming with tiger cubs that had been separated from their mothers and coerced into swimming with humans.
At some point Passage chose to pick a fight with Carole Baskin, operator of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. She was known as an animal rescuer whose ethics were opposite of those of Passage, She claimed he infringed her trademark by using a very similar name in promotional materials.
Big Cat Rescue: https://bigcatrescue.org/
The legal fight spilled out from the courtroom and Passage hired men to kill Baskin. His plot failed and he came to the attention of federal authorities. He was tried for the murder-for-hire plot, killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying animal transaction records. He was convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison. His sentence may be shortened a bit because an appeals court has ruled that the length of sentence violates federal sentencing guidelines. He is suffering from cancer and is incarcerated in a hospital prison. . Baskin was able to purchase his park and sell it with the proviso that it cannot be used as a zoo for 100 years. The story was also the inspiration for a Netflix series “The Tiger King: Murder Mayhem and Madness.”
With that behind her, Pearl and 19 other tigers were brought to TWAS. Eventually about 140 animals were brought to the Keenesburg facility. Keenesburg is merely the hub of TWAS activity. It is spacious at 789 acres but fudraising allowed founder Pat Craig to buy an additional 41acres in Boyd, Texas and a whopping 9,000 acre parcel near Springfield, Colorado. Most of the rescues go to the parcel near Springfield, others remain at Keenesburg, especially those with medical and other needs. Visitors can tour the Keenesburg facility via an elevated walkway. Unlike many rescue habitats TWAS believes that carnivores seeing humans at eye level regard them as intrusions, threats and possible prey whereas they ignore people on an elevated walkway.