I just finished watching Netflix’s über popular documentary “Tiger King: Murder Mayhem and Madness”.
Like no other documentary before it, Joe Exotic, together with all the other characters in the series, made me feel unapologetically proud to be a red-blooded American. Yee-haw! Each episode wholeheartedly encapsulated the essence, the very core and indispensable qualities that make rural America so immeasurably, unequivocally great. The multitude of enviable cultural articulations and freewheeling expressions of constitutional freedom so vividly shown in Tiger King prompted me to seriously consider abandoning my current life here in Sweden so I could relocate to hillbilly country of rural Oklahoma or near the “Glades” in Florida. Even my friend Samuel, currently a coronavirus prisoner in Málaga/Spain, says the parts of Oklahoma where much of Netflix’s Tiger King is played out is definitely an “interesting” destination.
About 15 years ago, Charlotte and I visited a tiger temple near the town of Kanchanaburi, a couple of hours’ drive west of Bangkok in Thailand and just a few clicks from the Burmese/Myanmar border. We were both incredibly naive and excited about being able to get up close to tigers and Aftonbladet, the newspaper that had commissioned us to produce a multipage travel reportage about the amazing Buddhist monks and their beautiful big cats, published our story in both print and on the interwebs.
As it turned out, the temple was in addition to being a very profitable tourist attraction with about 400 visitors per day, also a well-organized front for illegal farming and international black market trading of full-grown tigers, their cubs, tiger meat, tiger fangs, and tiger fur.
Today, I feel ashamed of having been so extremely naive. I saw how doped the tigers were, I saw the thick, short shackles that gave them zero freedom to move around and I certainly noticed that there was a disingenuous quality to the sugar-coated stories regurgitated to us by the monk during our special press tour.
Though the tiger temple was eventually closed, the site is still home to a few exotic animals, including (according to Wikipedia) a lion. As much as I love Thailand and the Thai people, I hope that some future incarnation of their government cracks down on the country’s many ill-kept and poorly supervised zoos and elephant riding camps. Most of all, I hope that the tiger above was allowed to live the rest of its life in a more peaceful environment. But I doubt it.