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Is Tiger King Still in Prison in 2023?

The bizarre saga of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic or the Tiger King, captivated viewers when the docuseries Tiger King was released on Netflix in 2020. The mullet-sporting zookeeper’s story had everything – murder-for-hire plots, polygamy, disappeared husbands, and of course, big cats.

So where is Joe Exotic now in 2023? Is he still serving his 22-year prison sentence? Let’s take a look at what the Tiger King has been up to since the cameras stopped rolling.

A Quick Recap of Joe Exotic’s Story

For those who need a refresher, Joe Exotic (birth name Joseph Maldonado-Passage) previously operated the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. The zoo housed big cats like tigers and lions, which Exotic bred and raised for profit.

Exotic’s bitter rivalry with big cat rights activist Carole Baskin began after she criticized his animal park’s practices. Their feud escalated dramatically when Exotic tried to hire two different hitmen on separate occasions to murder Baskin.

In 2019, Exotic was arrested and convicted on 17 federal charges of animal abuse as well as two counts of attempted murder for hire in his plot to kill Baskin. He was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.

Exotic’s Life in Prison So Far

Joe Exotic is currently incarcerated at FMC Fort Worth, a medical center in Texas run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He was transferred to the facility in 2021 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Exotic has repeatedly complained about the conditions of his imprisonment, including lack of proper medical care and access to his legal team. He has filed multiple lawsuits against government agencies and officials he believes have mistreated him.

In January 2022, Exotic was placed in COVID-19 isolation after testing positive for the virus. He was eventually moved into general population after recovering.

Will Joe Exotic Ever Get Out of Prison?

Exotic has repeatedly tried and failed to get his conviction overturned or his sentence reduced.

In January 2020, he filed for a federal pardon from President Donald Trump, which did not end up materializing before Trump left office.

In July 2021, a federal appeals court rejected Exotic’s request for a new trial. His legal team claimed misconduct by the trial judge and ineffective council from his previous lawyers.

Most recently in November 2022, Exotic filed a motion in Oklahoma federal court seeking resentencing and requesting compassionate release due to his health issues. The court has not yet ruled on this latest request.

Unless his conviction is overturned or he is granted compassionate release, Joe Exotic is scheduled to remain behind bars until at least 2037. He will be around 75 years old by the time he is eligible for release.

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What Is Joe Exotic Doing These Days?

So how does the Tiger King spend his time in federal prison? Exotic passes some of his days answering fan mail, which has continued pouring in even years after Tiger King aired. He also stays active filing various legal appeals and motions.

Exotic maintains his outrageous personality and style even in prison, nicknamed “Tiger King Park” by inmates according to Exotic. His outlandish bleach blond mullet has been replaced by a more toned-down orange hair color in recent photos.

The former zoo operator is still speaking out regularly to the media about his conviction, health issues, and hope for eventual release. He also posts updates on social media through his management team.

Exotic continues to insist he was wrongly convicted and framed by his enemies like Jeff Lowe and Carole Baskin. He firmly believes he will walk free one day and return to a version of his previous zoo enterprise.

Has Joe Exotic’s Zoo Changed Since His Arrest?

After Joe Exotic’s arrest in 2018, control of his zoo passed through various associates and ownership groups, leading to noticeable changes in recent years.

What Happened to Joe Exotic’s Zoo?

In 2016, Exotic transferred ownership of the zoo to Jeff Lowe and his wife Lauren to attempt avoiding legal liabilities and financial troubles. After Exotic’s 2019 conviction, Lowe ran the zoo until 2020.

That year, Lowe moved the animals to a new facility in Thackerville, Oklahoma called Tiger King Park. After legal disputes, Lowe was forced to vacate and close Tiger King Park in May 2021.

The zoo animals were placed under government control temporarily before most were sent to sanctuaries or rescues across the country. The fate of Exotic’s former zoo attractions remains in flux today.

Who Owns the Zoo Land Today?

The animal park that once housed Joe Exotic’s menagerie of big cats and other creatures sits empty today.

In June 2022, ownership of the 16-acre Wynnewood zoo property was awarded to Big Cat Rescue Corp, the organization run by Exotic’s nemesis Carole Baskin. This was part of a $1 million civil judgment against Exotic’s zoo management group Greater Wynnewood Development Group LLC.

Baskin has said she plans to sell the land and donate the proceeds to big cat sanctuaries or conservation charities. For now, the vacant zoo formerly run by the Tiger King sits in limbo.

Status of Former Zoo Animals in 2022

According to various reports, the 200-300 animals that once populated Joe Exotic’s zoo are now spread around the country, many finding new permanent homes.

When Tiger King Park closed in 2021, the government placed nearly 70 tigers, lions, bears, and other creatures under the care of animal welfare groups. These include:

  • 25 tigers taken in by the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado
  • 23 big cats rescued by the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas
  • 4 bears transported to the Wild Animal Sanctuary
  • Several wolves relocated to Louisiana’s Endangered Wolf Center

Other former GW Zoo animals were transferred to rescues like Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary or sent to zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

After years of questionable care under Exotic and Lowe, most of these captive creatures are now living in more humane, regulated environments.

What Has Happened to Other Key Figures Since Tiger King?

The bizarre characters surrounding Joe Exotic in the Tiger King saga have experienced their own ups and downs since becoming pop culture phenomenons.

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Carole Baskin

Exotic’s nemesis Carole Baskin has become a prominent animal activist and conservation advocate. She continues to run Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida along with her current husband Howard.

Baskin has spoken out extensively against keeping big cats as pets and supported legislation like the Big Cat Public Safety Act to clamp down on the captive tiger trade.

The mysterious disappearance of Baskin’s previous husband Don Lewis in 1997 remains unsolved. His family aired a commercial offering a $100,000 reward for information during Joe Exotic’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars in 2020.

Baskin herself briefly appeared on Dancing with the Stars season 29, being eliminated after just 3 weeks. She was also tricked into doing a live video interview with YouTubers posing as Jimmy Fallon in 2020.

Jeff and Lauren Lowe

After taking over GW Zoo from Exotic, Jeff and Lauren Lowe continued exhibiting tiger cubs and other big cat babies to crowds and celebrities. This led to legal troubles including a federal complaint in Nov 2020 concerning inadequate animal care.

The couple ultimately lost their license to exhibit animals following multiple inspections citing animal welfare violations at their Tiger King Park. They divorced in 2021 shortly before fleeing their Thackerville property.

In July 2022, Jeff Lowe was arrested for drunk driving in Las Vegas. He was previously arrested in Oklahoma in 2021 for violating his probation on a DUI charge from 2018.

Lowe remains outspoken on social media, denouncing his portrayal in Tiger King and insisting he provided good animal care. He indicates plans to potentially start a new zoo enterprise in the future.

John Finlay

Joe Exotic’s former three-way husband John Finlay has undergone a dramatic transformation since Tiger King filmed. Finlay got his teeth fixed, covering up his infamous tattooed gums. He is now married to a woman named Stormey.

Finlay has expressed regret about his drug use and behavior during his GW Zoo years. In 2022 interviews, he stated forgiveness for Exotic and still communicates with his ex occasionally. Finlay works as a welder and hopes to stay out of the spotlight going forward.


Exotic’s other ex-husband Travis Maldonado died by accidental suicide in 2017. Zoo manager Erik Cowie passed away in 2021 from acute and chronic alcohol use. Zoo co-owner Tim Stark died in 2022 following a car accident.

Exotic’s friend and producer Rick Kirkham admitted many scenes in Tiger King were staged or creatively edited. Kirkham continues working in reality TV and appearing in documentaries.

Questions Still Surrounding the Tiger King Saga

Even with Joe Exotic imprisoned and his zoo shut down, some burning questions surrounding the Tiger King phenomenon still remain.

What really happened to Carole Baskin’s husband?

Don Lewis mysteriously disappeared in 1997 and was declared legally dead in 2002. Some speculate Joe Exotic or Carole Baskin herself were involved, but the case remains cold with no conclusive proof of any theory. Investigators have followed up thousands of tips since Tiger King aired but the disappearance is still unsolved.

Did Jeff Lowe set up Joe Exotic’s murder-for-hire charge?

Joe Exotic firmly believes Jeff Lowe and James Garretson conspired to frame Exotic for hiring a hitman to kill Carole Baskin. They allegedly wanted him out of the zoo picture. While their actions look shady in Tiger King, there’s no hard evidence they set Exotic up.

What will happen to Joe Exotic’s animals long-term?

For now most of Exotic’s 200-300 animals have found new homes, but their long-term futures are uncertain. Some debate whether these captive-born creatures can fully adjust to sanctuary life after years of questionable care. Concerns remain around accredited zoos breeding big cats for profit too.

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Will Joe Exotic’s fame help get him released?

His team hopes Exotic’s notoriety will aid his request for a pardon or early release. Critics argue his convictions were justified and he should serve his full sentence. How much Exotic’s fame impacts decisions around his imprisonment remains to be seen.

Could the Tiger King phenomenon inspire real change?

Some believe Tiger King spotlighted abuse in the captive tiger trade and motivated reforms like the Big Cat Public Safety Act proposed in Congress. But deeper change limiting the exploitation of big cats and cub-petting outfits has been slow moving so far.

What’s Next for Joe Exotic and Company?

As Joe Exotic continues his legal appeals, speculation abounds regarding what could be next for the Tiger King star and associates.

Will Joe Exotic be Released Early?

While Exotic is determined to get out of prison ASAP, most legal experts say his chances remain slim without his sentence being reduced or conviction overturned. Proposed reforms reducing some drug offenses’ sentences wouldn’t apply to Exotic’s conviction. A presidential pardon still seems unlikely. Compassionate release is a possibility, but may not come soon.

More TV and Movie Portrayals Coming

The Tiger King saga continues inspiring TV shows and movies unfortunately. Joe Exotic-inspired characters have appeared on American Horror Story and Riverdale lately. Actors like Kate McKinnon and John Cameron Mitchell are already cast as Baskin and Exotic respectively in upcoming series. Nicolas Cage will portray Exotic in an Amazon movie premiering in 2023.

Zoo May Be Converted to Animal Sanctuary

If current owner Carole Baskin successfully sells Joe Exotic’s former zoo land, the prospective buyer could convert it into an ethical big cat sanctuary. This might create a positive impact on Wynnewood although the controversial history may hurt tourism. It’s unclear when or if Baskin will sell.

Big Question Marks for Jeff and Lauren Lowe

After losing their zoos and splitting up, the future for Jeff and Lauren Lowe remains murky. Jeff Lowe suggests they could start a new zoo someday highlighting other exotic animals like monkeys. However, significant legal and financial obstacles make that seem unlikely soon. Where exactly the Lowes end up and what they do next is a wild card.

The winding journey of Joe Exotic, his zoo associates, and his menagerie of animals continues providing twists even years later. As more time passes in prison for the Tiger King star, the next unpredictable chapter in this stranger-than-fiction saga remains to be seen.


The outrageous story of Joe Exotic and his inner circle of big cat owners and breeders enthralled Netflix viewers and sparked renewed debate around captive tigers. But there are still many unanswered questions and uncertain fates for the key figures involved years later.

Will Exotic manage to get released from prison early or ever open a new zoo attraction? What ultimately happens to his former animals and properties? How will Carole Baskin, Jeff Lowe and other major players move forward?

As Exotic continues to insist he was framed and files new legal motions in 2022, the public’s thirst for more Tiger King drama shows no signs of abating. But hopefully someday the spotlight will shift to the real victims deserving attention: the exploited captive tigers and big cats waiting for a happier ending.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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