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The Strange Case of 'Joe Exotic,' the Zookeeper Accused of Attempted Murder

"I am the most dangerous exotic animal owner on this planet right now. And before you bring me down, it is my belief that you will stop breathing."
Drew Schwartz
Brooklyn, US
Screengrab via Joe Exotic TV / YouTube

This is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, a.k.a. "Joe Exotic":

He's an Oklahoma-based zookeeper specializing in big cats who, for years, has been at war with animal rights activist Carole Baskin, a woman who runs Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary for tigers, lions, and other exotic cats outside Tampa, Florida. She was also the apparent model for the blow-up doll in that terrifying video, the Washington Post reports. According to Baskin, Maldonado-Passage has threatened to kill her several times during their bizarre, long-running feud, which she says started when her organization warned businesses in the community about his questionable treatment of animals.


“Because Big Cat Rescue has been a leader in working to stop what we view as abuse of big cats and we have been very effective in our work," Baskin said in a Facebook Live video. "I have received multiple death threats over the years, including at one point, a number of snakes placed in my mailbox."

Now the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office believes Maldonado-Passage actually tried to follow through on some of those threats by allegedly hiring two different hit men to murder Baskin, the Brandon Herald reports. According to a DoJ press release, he originally put out a hit on her in July 2016, only to have his middle man put him in touch with an undercover FBI agent in December of 2017. He also allegedly paid someone $3,000 to trek from Oklahoma to Florida and take her out in November of 2017, promising the person "thousands more" once the deed was done, but it never went through. He was arrested in Florida last Friday after the indictment came down.

According to a post on the website for Baskin's sanctuary, her rivalry with Maldonado-Passage began sometime in the late 2000s. He'd been running what she calls a "notorious" petting zoo in Oklahoma, and when he started taking tiger cubs on a traveling exhibit to malls across the country, she told them the animals were subjected to "miserable" conditions. A number of the malls wound up canceling on him, and according to Baskin, he "retaliated" by making bone-chilling videos about her, including one in which he straight-up vowed to kill her.


“For Carole and all of her friends that are watching out there, if you think for one minute I was nuts before, I am the most dangerous exotic animal owner on this planet right now,” he says in the video. "And before you bring me down, it is my belief that you will stop breathing."

Joe Exotic is now facing up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for allegedly trying to have his rival killed. There's no word yet on whether a possible conviction could keep him from running another presidential campaign, like the deeply bizarre one he launched in 2016.

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