MYSTERY WIRE — The worldwide trade in exotic and endangered animals is a multi-billion dollar business, and often a criminal conspiracy.
In the United States, it still flourishes because of an illegal underground network of breeders. This includes people like Joe Exotic, the colorful Oklahoma zoo owner featured in the recent Netflix documentary series Tiger King.
No one knows for sure how many lions, tigers, ligers, and other exotic animals are lurking in roadside zoos and backyard menageries. But federal officials say there are far more tigers being kept in cages in the U.S. than exist in the wild.
Joe Exotic is just one of dozens of big cat breeders. Young tigers are sold for thousands of dollars each, then smuggled across state lines. Most big cats end up spending their lives in cramped filthy backyard cages.
Animal welfare groups and activists are working to close the loopholes and shut down the illicit trade made famous by Tiger King.
“It did touch on also the public safety issue at play. One of Joe Exotic’s employees have their arm ripped off, Joe himself has been attacked,” said Carney Anne Nasser, an attorney and animal rights activist. “This happens even in accredited zoological institutions that even the experts get killed. Certainly the roadside zoo owners and the fly-by-night pet owners don’t have any business keeping a tiger on their property.”
Nasser helped convince federal agencies to focus on shutting down Joe Exotic and is now urging congress to take action on a wider scale. She now speaks publicly against big cat trafficking and has started a popular podcast on the topic called Tiger Talk.
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Mystery Wire spoke at length with Nasser and animal rights activist Wayne Pacelle. You can watch their interviews below.