As well as being a star of the hit Netflix show, ‘Tiger King‘, she’s a big cats rights activist and CEO of Big Cat Rescue (a non-profit tiger sanctuary in Florida). Carole is also the CEO of the International Tiger Coalition and a social media influencer. Additionally, she appeared in a recent Louis Theroux documentary, on the US version of ‘Dancing with the Stars‘ and on the Animal Planet TV channel.
Carole is no stranger to the law, having successfully lobbied Congress over the last 30 years on big cat rights, especially in relation to policies prohibiting the trade and ownership of big cats. More controversially, she’s faced legal action by those opposed to these policies, and in relation to the disappearance of her ex-husband, Don Lewis, in 1997.
In the full episode, topics covered include:
- Her thoughts on ‘Tiger King’, and how it was highly sensationalised
- What caused her to devote her life to big cat conservation
- The current US laws on big cat conservation, and what needs to change
- How breeding tigers is causing their extinction in the wild
- How VR can replace exploitative zoos and end poaching forever
Rob Hanna (00:00):
Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Hanna. This week I’m absolutely delighted to be joined by Carole Baskin. Carole is an internationally renowned, big cats rights activist and founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, a nonprofit animal sanctuary based near Tampa, Florida. Carole has lobbied Congress to ban the private trade and ownership of exotic cats and has successfully helped to change a number of laws in the U S relating to big cat ownership and treatment such as in 2006, when Carole successfully lobbied the USDA to ban the declawing of big cats. Carole is also the founding member of the International Tiger Coalition, which is made up of 42 of the biggest animal protection groups, such as the WWF, HSUS and Born Free. Carole has also become a social media star and can certainly teach us a thing or two about Tik Tok and now even Clubhouse. So a very, very warm welcome Carole.
Carole Baskin (01:05):
Hey all you cool cats and kittens. I’m so happy to be here.
Rob Hanna (01:10):
It’s an absolute honour to have you on the show. And before we dive into all of your achievements and experiences to date, we have an opening question here on the Legally Speaking Podcast, which usually relates to the Suits legal drama on Netflix. But for today’s episode, we’re going to make things up a little bit and ask. So on the scale of one to 10, 10 being very real, what would you rate Tiger King in terms of its reality?
Carole Baskin (01:35):
You didn’t give me any negative numbers to choose from.
Hahahahaha. Okay. You can go to a minus number if you like.
Carole Baskin (01:42):
About a minus 10
Rob Hanna (01:45):
Minus 10, and we’ll move on. So let’s start at the beginning. Carole, tell us a bit about your family background and upbringing.
Carole Baskin (01:52):
I was born into two families. My parents were workaholics, and so while they worked, I was raised by my grandmother. And then when I went off to first grade, my grandmother was just absolutely devastated, not having a child in the house. And so she went on to build a huge empire of her own out of her frustration. So I think I come from a long line of workaholics on both sides of the family. I left home at the age of 15 and I started rehabbing and releasing Bobcat’s at the age of 17. I was married by the time I was 17 and then had my first daughter at the age of 19 and then went on to start the sanctuary when I was 31 or 32 in 1992.
Rob Hanna (02:37):
Wow. What a story. And I believe when you were born, your parents brought you home an orange and white striped cat in the cradle named Tiger taking this into account. Do you almost think you are destined to work in conservation? And at what age do you believe your passion for saving cats begins?
Carole Baskin (02:54):
You know, I always loved cats and I’m sure it’s because there was a literal cat in my cradle from the time that I was born. I didn’t know that that cat was named Tiger until I was looking for a photograph for a magazine article back in, I think 2019. And that was when I looked on the back of the picture, you know, but back in my day, we used to stick those in books. Now they’re all digital, but, um, it was one of those like, Oh my gosh, I guess this was in the stars from the very beginning I learned when I was about eight or nine years old, that domestic cats and kittens were being killed in animal shelters due to overpopulation. And that’s when I really decided that was going to be my life’s mission, that I needed to work very hard in order to save up enough money to fix that problem.
Carole Baskin (03:40):
And so that was where I thought I was going to go with my life. And so I, when I was distracted by the issue of big cats and fur farms and all of the agregious abuses against exotic cats, I naively thought, how hard could that be to six? I’ll just fix that. And then I’ll get back on my mission. And so now nearly 30 years later, I’m still trying to fix those problems, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our federal bill is poised to pass this year and that will eliminate probably 95 to 98% of the abuse, the big cats face. So I’m really excited about that. And so thankful to have been launched on this journey, even if it wasn’t my choosing.
Rob Hanna (04:23):
Yeah. Well, fingers crossed for that. And I just want to jump forward to 1992, I believe with yourself and your then husband, Don Lewis, rescued Windsong the Bobcat from a taxidermist at an exotic animal auction. I believe you then founded Wildlife on Easy Street and now Big Cat Rescue and Animal Sanctuary for big cats. You’ve discussed that this is initially never your intention to found the sanctuary, but instead to rescue domestic cats. So what changed your decision?
Carole Baskin (04:51):
So I had done the Bobcat rehab and release where if a Bobcat gets hit by a car or shot by a Hunter, a vet can fix them up in 30 minutes to an hour, but then there’s months of them having to get back into hunting form before they can be released back to the wild. So I’ve been doing that from the time that I was 17 until I was in my thirties. And when I, in 1992, we were at an exotic animal auction buying Llamas because we were in real estate for a living. And we would just turn the Lamas loose out on big tracks of land. And they clear about eye-level, which is perfect. And then you just move them to the next piece of property. And so this guy came in with a Bobcat on a leash. She was about six months old and she was terrified if you can imagine what an animal auction is like, it’s loud, there’s all kinds of animals being brought in.
Carole Baskin (05:37):
And now like, you know, mostly Hoofstock and the guy next to me started bidding on this Bobcat. And so I leaned over and I said, when that cat grows up, she is going to tear your face off because there is nothing more wicked on this planet than a Bobcat, they’re just the toughest animal out there. And he said, I’m a taxidermist. I’m just going to club her in the head in the parking lot and make a den decoration in an hour.
Rob Hanna (06:03):
Carole Baskin (06:03):
Yeah, I had about that same reaction, except I burst into tears. And so my husband started bidding and we were not going to let that cat die in the parking lot that day. So she came home with us, but she had been declawed and you can’t release a declawed Bobcat. Plus a lot of people don’t understand that any exotic cat that’s born in a cage is doomed to live the rest of their lives in a cage.
Carole Baskin (06:24):
There are no release programs. It’s not legal to release them to the wild. And so since she had been born on a fur farm, she couldn’t be set free, even if she had her claws. And so she was as horrible as you might expect as a pet, she would chase our German shepherd all over the place. She terrorized my daughter. She would lay on top of the refrigerator and wait for my husband to come into the room and open the refrigerator. And then she’d launched down on his head and start ripping his hair out. And instead of thinking, wow, this is a really bad pet. He started calling around to see if anybody had somebody she could be raised with that. She wouldn’t beat the snot out of, and this guy said, I have Bobcat kittens, but you have to come up here in person.
Carole Baskin (07:05):
So we drove up to Minnesota and took my daughter. She was 12 years old at the time and a little friend of hers from school. And when we got there, it turned out to be a fur farm. I didn’t know, people killed cats for there for, you know, I’d heard of mink coats of course, or rabbit coats, but I never really even thought about that industry. And certainly didn’t know that cats were being killed. And so when we got there, it’s, the conditions were so horrific as far as like these tiny little wire cages that these cats were pacing frantically and they could barely turn around and, you know, just spinning around in their own urine and theses and rotten food. And the flies in there were so thick. We had to put handkerchiefs over our faces to even be able to talk or breathe without getting flies in our mouths and the noses.
Carole Baskin (07:56):
And I asked the guy, if there was this big of a market for these cats as pets, cause he’s like pulling them out all over the place. You want this one, you want this one? And he said, you know, we’re, we’re a fur farm. So whatever we don’t sell as pets, we’ll solder next year for their fur. And about that time, I was looking around this room, you know, trying to adjust to what’s going on inside this metal shed. And I saw a pile of dead cats and they had only removed this little piece of belly fur and it’s white with the spots. So when you see that kind of fur, that’s white with spots, that’s Bob Cat fur, and that’s the prettiest part of their fur, and that’s why it takes like 20 of them just to make a little short coat. And so I just burst into tears again, and it was like a freight train running through my head. I mean, I couldn’t even think, but I could hear my husband say how much for every cat here. And I’m thinking, what!
Carole Baskin (08:57):
And the guy gave him a price and we went into town and we bought every carrier, every crate, anything you could put a cat in all of the, uh, kitten formula that we could possibly round up, kitten, milk, replacer and puppy milk, replacer, goats, milk S black and everything, all the kitten bottles, and then loaded up the van with everybody that we could and got them out of there. And my thinking was that, well, we’ll rescue these cats. Clearly I was not thinking, we’ll rescue these cats. We’ll send them out into pet homes. And at least they won’t be killed for their fur. And what happened was the next year that for a farmer said, Hey, I’ve got kittens again. And so we went back and said, okay, how much for every kitten and every adult with the agreements that you never breed cats again for their fur.
Carole Baskin (09:48):
And he agreed to that. And so we bought 28 more cats and there was 56 in the first group, 28 and the second group. And then there was another, for a farm that we found out about that we bought every adult and kitten and there were 22 cats there. And then we started trying to get all of the cats out of that was all of the cats in the U S that were on for farms. And then we started trying to get all of the cats off of Canadian fur farms. And that was when I lost my husband in 97. So we were not able to complete that. But what happened was when I sent all of those cats out to pet homes, when they got to be about six months old and became who they are, people were calling me up and saying, I can’t deal with this cat.
Carole Baskin (10:28):
You got to take it back. And so these cats all started coming back to the sanctuary and that let me know, okay, this doesn’t work because people are not about to give up their lives in order to provide lifetime care, which can be 20 years for these exotic cats, because they’re not pets. They don’t make good pets. And so then, because people had heard about this, they started calling and saying, will you rescue my lion? Will you rescue my tiger? And I’m thinking, what are people doing with lions and tigers in their backyards? And again I thought, how hard could this be to fix, you know, we’ll rescue these animals. We’ll point out to law enforcement that this stupid thing is happening in America. Surely this can’t happen in America. And we found out it was legal and the only way to stop it was to change the laws. And so we’ve been working since 1998 to change the laws so that people can’t get their hands on these exotic animals, because it never works out for the animal and never works out for the person.
Rob Hanna (11:25):
Yeah. And thank you so much for sharing that. And I want to sort of go maybe to some of the basics for you, but, you know, Carole, as someone who’s an expert in cats, having dedicated a large majority of your lifetime, rescuing both big cats and domestic cats, could you tell our listeners what exactly makes a cat, a big cat?
Carole Baskin (11:44):
Well, that term I, when I use it, I’m talking about anything. That’s not domestic cat, but in true terms, a cat would be a lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow, leopard, those cats, are the considered the big cats. And then you’ve got the lesser cats, which would be like cougars on down to servals and clericals and bob cats and fishing cats and all of those other smaller cats. But even when I’m talking about hybrid cats, where somebody has taken maybe a servile and bred it to a domestic cat, I refer to those as big cats, just because of the ease of distinguishing between a domestic cat who should be a pet and everything else that should not be.
Rob Hanna (12:28):
Yeah, absolutely. And how has, um, big cat rescue been coping during the pandemic? You know, what have been some of the main challenges you’ve experienced?
Carole Baskin (12:37):
It costs us about three and a half to $4 million per year to provide the food and vet care for our cats and the overhead of the sanctuary and our programs. The wonderful thing is that when we started, unfortunately because of the fact that we started in 1992, my husband and I had a very thriving real estate business that we were able to support the cats. But by 1995, the IRS said, this is not a business, it’s a hobby or it’s a nonprofit. And so we had to incorporate as a nonprofit. And then in 97, I lost my husband and all of our assets were seized. And so even though I had been donating anywhere from 360 to $500,000 a year to taking care of the cats, I wasn’t allowed to do that anymore by the courts. And so they limited me to, I think it was 165,000 per year.
Carole Baskin (13:30):
And so I had to, you know, desperately start going out and asking for donations and allowing people to come and visit the cats for tours. And so that tour revenue grew to be about a third of the revenue that we have to raise each year, which is over a million dollars. But the good thing about the way we started is I knew that people who loved big cats would do that kind of work for free. And so all of our animal care is done by volunteers. And we have an extremely structured volunteer program. They have to work with the little cats, um, you know, little big cats as far as like circles and Bobcat’s and cats that can kill you through the wire for two full years before they can even be anywhere near the side of the cage where a lion or tiger or leopard is.
Carole Baskin (14:18):
And none of our people, including me are allowed to even touch the cats because that sends the wrong message and they can kill you if they get a hold of any part of you, they’re going to drag it through the wire. And so the good thing about COVID hitting in March of 2020, as far as the sanctuary goes, is that none of the animal care suffered as a result because none of those people were on the payroll. And in fact, an awful lot of people lost their jobs. So we had more people that were able to spend more time coming out and spending time taking care of the cats. But we had 20 paid staff at the time. And those 20 paid staff didn’t do animal care because if you’re paying some people and not paying other people’s, that’s not fair. So the only people who get paychecks are people who are doing things, volunteers hate doing like dealing with donors or going out and speaking at events or handling public relations, you know, all of that kind of behind the scenes stuff.
Carole Baskin (15:13):
And so we lost half of our people because salaries are always the most expensive part of any endeavor. And so now the 10 or 12 of us that are left behind are doing the work of 22 people, which has been extremely hard, but, um, it’s enabled us to conserve funds. And then we weren’t sure we had to close our Gates due to COVID. So, you know, that million dollar revenue was gone, but we weren’t sure how Tiger King would affect our donations. Everybody who knew us loves us. And they know that the things that they saw in Tiger King were just, they were so, so, um, wrong as far as the kind of work that we do and who we are. We’re so transparent. We have one of the highest ratings on charity navigator of any animal endeavor out there. We’ve been on guide star all these years.
Carole Baskin (16:05):
Our nine nineties are posted on our website, but we knew our existing donors would stick with us. We didn’t know what would happen because you know, people die over time and you have to always be bringing in new donors. If the majority of people around the planet got their impression of who we are and who I am from Tiger King, we didn’t know whether or not people would be able to see through that. And so we were really surprised that at the end of 2020, we actually had people donate to us that had not been donors before. And our existing donors said, you know, we know that you are suffering because of the double impact of Tiger King being so wrong and the pandemic. And so they really stepped up in 2020. So here we are now over a year into this pandemic, we still can’t open our gates, even though people are starting to get vaccinated because there’s no vaccines for the cats and the cats can catch it.
Carole Baskin (17:02):
And so we can’t open up to tours again, the way that we did before, once one, because our tours are 20 people have max of 20 people on a tour, had to stay very close to the tour guide so that they can tell them the stories about the the cats as they go through and you can’t be bringing people in from all around the world and sticking them close together like that. Even if they’ve been vaccinated, because the vaccines just mean, we won’t die from COVID. It doesn’t mean that we can’t catch it or share it. And with the cats not having any kind of protection, we used to rely on those keepers. And what we call partners, those are people who would like donate time to do a tour or do gift shop work, but they didn’t work with the cats. And so we relied on tour guides being from both, and now we can’t have our keepers giving tours and then be breathing on the cats. So we haven’t been able to reopen for tours.
Rob Hanna (17:58):
Well, fingers crossed that will change soon as vaccines, more and more roll out over time. And I want to, you touched on it previously before, but as you, um, expertly lobbied and influenced a number of laws regarding the welfare and possessions of big cats, what is the current law on keeping big cats?
Carole Baskin (18:15):
The problem is in the United States, it’s a patchwork of laws. So the federal law is that anybody can have whatever they want, which just like whenever I talk to people in other countries, they always say only in America, but, um, state by state, we have been successful in getting bands and partial bands passed throughout the years. So in 1998 was when we first started lobbying to end the private possession of big cats. And in 2003, that bill passed. But anytime you push something through legislation, you always end up having to compromise. And the compromise, there were a lot of compromises, but, um, in 2003, what that law did was it said you couldn’t sell a big cat across state lines as a pet, but what happens is you would have people like if you remember Doc Antle and, um, Tiger King, he had a location in South Carolina and a location in Florida. So what he could do is transfer his cats. If he had a buyer in Florida, he could transfer his cats to his other facility in Florida and then sell it to his Florida buyer as a pet. And of course in Florida, Florida, and Texas being the biggest States, as far as having big cats pets. In fact, our Florida wildlife commission was quoted as saying in a perfect world, we’d know where these cats are.
Carole Baskin (19:47):
It doesn’t need to be a perfect world. You know, it’s not that hard to set up a reporting system.
Rob Hanna (19:53):
Absolutely. Absolutely. And we must talk then moving on to sort of Tiger King, cause I heard you were contacted about Tiger King around five or six years ago under the premise of Blackfish for big cats. Do you think over the course of this period, the series directors lost sight of this and the conservation and animal welfare problems that are the heart of the story?
Carole Baskin (20:16):
Well, I don’t know my husband and I have different theories on that because, you know, they did come to us saying this was going to be called stolen wildlife and that it was going to expose that there were all of these places, you know, back in 2011, there were like 56 of these places that were just constantly pumping out tiger Cubs and lion Cubs and liker Cubs, which was a hybrid. They would cross-breed because there was no law that protected laggers, even though there was laws that protected tigers and lions, nothing protected the hybrids, they were getting around the laws with that. But when they came to us pitching that we were all on board for that, because that’s, our mission is to end the practice of having big cats and backyards. And so we welcomed them into the sanctuary. Anytime they wanted to come, we’d drop everything.
Carole Baskin (21:03):
We introduced them to all of the experts in the industry who could talk about why this is so harmful for the animals and why it’s a threat to law enforcement and why it can’t be regulated appropriately under our current schemes and how it’s so expensive for the taxpayer to be subsidizing all of this. And none of that into the tiger King, you know, it just turned out to be this freak show. And the only other expert that they brought in that said anything as far as protecting the Cannes was Brittany Pete from PETA. And they gave her like, you know, two lines and she was out and there was so much she could have brought to that program. But during that same period of time, we were working with all kinds of other film crews. We were working with the film crew from hidden Teicher, which actually did expose all of the issues that these cats face and the, the problems they face in the while we were working on the conservation game, which just won the social justice award at the Santa Barbara international film festival.
Carole Baskin (22:03):
And what it exposes is how these people, who we grew up thinking were conservationists, were taking these Beatty animals onto night shows like Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, and those kinds of programs. And this show will expose where they got their cats from and where those cats ended up. And you will see that it is an absolute lie that they told us on TV when they said, Oh, it came from this wonderful zoo. And it’s going back to this wonderful zoo or this big sanctuary. That’s not what was happening. And they were caught red handed saying that they knew that. And so I think that is what actually started this whole big cat crisis in America. People saw that on TV and thought, I want to be that cool guy wearing a cool hat and walking a cat on a leash, big cat on a leash. And so it created just a unbelievable glut of these animals being bred for the purpose of those egomaniacs, to be able to show off like that. And all of the people who wanted to touch a cat, if people want to touch baby wild animals, they want to see baby wild animals. And they’re not thinking about what’s happening to those animals after they outgrow that cuteness, which is about 12 to 16 weeks when they can take a finger off of a small child, and then they end up being discarded
Rob Hanna (23:25):
And you touched on it there because you’re right off the target King. So many people seem to believe that a breeding tigers is preventing their extinction, but you and I both know, that’s not the case as an expert in animal conservation, please, could you explain to our listeners how breeding tigers actually causes their extension? Yeah. That’s the hardest
Carole Baskin (23:46):
Thing for people to wrap their head around. And we actually created a cartoon to try and dumb it down to the simplest idea that we possibly could so that people will understand. And they can see that email@example.com. But here’s my elevator pitch for that when you’re breeding hundreds of Cubs every year that are being used for about 12 to 16 weeks, and then they’re being discarded into pet homes, or they’re being incinerated when they can’t be used any longer or their parts are being ending up in the black market for their parts, then you create this legal smokescreen for illegal activities. So whenever you bro a market for something like people to pet a Cub, and you’re promoting that on social media, and everybody wants to have their picture made with a Cub. Everybody wants to do it. They think it can’t be hurting the animals or else the law wouldn’t allow it.
Carole Baskin (24:45):
And they don’t understand that the laws are way behind in protecting these animals. And so if you get caught with a tiger skin rug on your wall, or you get caught wearing a tiger twos around your neck, nobody can enforce the laws against you because you can say that was my pet tiger. When it very likely could have come from the wild. And it’s always going to be a lot cheaper to shoot a wild tiger, the cost of a single bullet to shoot a wild tiger at full size, to get all of those parts that people can trade for something like an excess of $60,000 per year. Yeah. That’s a lot cheaper than raising up that Cub for five years years until it’s an adult size cat and fully formed to harvest for their parts because it costs $10,000 per year per cat, just for the food and that’s just to raise one tiger.
Carole Baskin (25:40):
So it’s always going to be so much cheaper to poach those cats in the wild. They’re going to be less likely to be caught than they are if they’re trying to raise tigers in a farm in their backyard in order to kill them. And if people knew that that’s how they were giving these parts, of course they would never, they would never support it. They always say, Oh, they died of old age. No they didn’t, they did not. That’s not how your fur coat got there. It wasn’t some cat running around in the wild. Somebody found that when it died of old age, then skinned it and made a coat for you, that’s not how it works. So all of these cats that are in private possession are inbred because people want to see white tigers. And the only way you do that is through gross inbreeding.
Carole Baskin (26:20):
I mean, severe inbreeding that causes so many of the Cubs even to be born dead. And it’s hybridizing between lions and tigers, or even within tigers, it’s hybridizing between subspecies. So none of those serve any conservation value, no exotic cat born in a cage could ever be set free. No big cat. Now here I am going to differentiate between bland fires leverage and the smaller cats. There is one, only one program that has ever worked. And it was for the Spanish Lynx, the Iberian Lynx, and it was done in Spain where these cats used to live and they had been just about completely wiped out. And so they started breeding them in captivity. This is a cat that’s about 40 pounds full grown. And they bred them with no public contact, no visual contact. They monitor them with cameras. They release successive generations into more and more space until the subsequent generations are running free in the wild.
Carole Baskin (27:19):
And that has been successful. That does not work with lions or tigers or leopards or Jaguars, because if they imprint on a person at all and see people as being a source of food, as soon as you turn them loose, they get into trouble. And there was a recent situation in Russia where it was a mother tiger with her too. I think two or three cut. I think it might’ve been three Cubs. And she ended up being killed and they brought the Cubs into captivity because they were too young to release. And then they release them. And as soon as they release them, they got into trouble. And I think one ended up being shot. And then they had to bring one back into captivity, just doesn’t work with big cats. And so, uh, we’re seeing an awful lot of people within, in South Africa that are being attacked now by lions because people have gone to these farms where they pay to pet the Cubs that they told were orphans.
Carole Baskin (28:13):
And, you know, they were charged thousands of dollars to protect those baby orphans and bottle feed them every day. And then they’re used in cantons. And so people have, have acclimated these big cats to the idea of being around people to the point where they’re killing people. I think Kevin Richardson was a perfect example of that, where, you know, he’s been heralded as the lion whisper. And people think that he has this amazing relationship with these big cats because they see him clown around with them. And then a woman comes to visit and gets killed by one of the cats is she’s, you know, just walking to her car. And so it’s because the cats have no natural fear anymore of people. So there’s just never any way that people can have a close relationship with a cat. That’s going to work out with them. And that’s why I’m really excited about the idea of putting three 60 3d internet streaming motion, censored, remote controlled cameras, where these cats live and then beaming that to our headsets anywhere in the world so that we can be in their environment without having a negative impact on them.
Carole Baskin (29:20):
And that way we get all the benefit of seeing what they do all day long. Anytime we want to, without impeding their ability to support themselves or acclimating them to humans, which is going to cause them to be killed.
Rob Hanna (29:35):
Absolutely. And alongside all of your brilliant work, continuously challenging, changing laws to help conserve big cats. You also are at the forefront of changing what the zoos are looking like. You’ve helped develop as you say, the VR and AR zoos and even developed your first ever VR big cat rescue game to raise awareness. So can you tell us more about all of these fantastic initiatives?
Carole Baskin (30:01):
Thank you so much for asking about that. I really think that is the way of the future. And one of the biggest pushback that I get from people is this notion that we have to have wild animals in ensues. Otherwise we aren’t teaching our children to love and appreciate wildlife. And we have shown in the last 200 years of having zoos that that has failed abysmally, we’ve lost 95% of the tiger population alone during that period of time. And all of the other big cat species are just following right behind that. Some are even at worst situations. So we need a new model. And I think zoos are so antiquated in their thinking that they can’t even picture what that new model is. And so that’s why, even though I was saying, I think this is something we should do for years. I’ve been saying this since like 2012 and nobody was doing it.
Carole Baskin (30:57):
And so I thought, well, the only way I’m going to show that this is something that’s finable is to do it. And so I went out and I hired people that could actually build these games in virtual reality and build these augmented reality experiences and then showed how these can be monetized and how it’s cheaper. When I built the big cat rescue VR game, I did it with a group called XNL digital.com and they did it in about five months, time cost, $40,000. Well, that’s the cost of feeding one tiger for four years, but that digital game will live on forever and it can be used everywhere. And it could be, you could run ads on it. You could charge subscriptions for it, which actually they do in the schools to send it out to all of the schools. We just signed a contract where they’re doing that for like a $10 a month subscription.
Carole Baskin (31:48):
Any school that has a subscription can have all of their kids put on a headset and see this. So you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people, but we had to set the, the not only the vision we had to actually do it and say, here it is, look at this, see how much people love this. And here’s the guy you can go hire to do that. I don’t want any part of it. I just want you to replace having wild animals, languishing in cages with these engaging, entertaining, educational experiences that kids love. Nobody wants to go to the zoo and see some catches laying there or pacing back and forth hating it’s life. And I think when we take a child to the zoo and we show them cage after cage, after cage full of these miserable animals, what we’re saying to our children is it’s okay to completely raid their habitats, to take away their birthright, to everything that they should have had.
Carole Baskin (32:47):
If they were born in the wild, it’s okay to hold them here against their will. If that amuses you in some way, that is the worst message we could possibly send children. I can’t believe this has become the way people think like they educate their kids. How can they not see that? But clearly they haven’t seen it. And so I feel like we had to cast a vision for parents to see something that was going to be better than that as far as getting their kids to care about protecting nature. And when I mentioned these cameras, I think that this is the perfect symbiotic relationship with the local communities, because if the local people are charged with making sure those cameras stay operational, cats love to lick those cameras. So that means somebody has got to go out there and wipe that lens off every once in a while, there’s always internet things that fail.
Carole Baskin (33:39):
And you’ve got all of these technical people that could be working on that. And then if you made the local villages or cities, it’s money that comes in from all of these subscriptions and ads that it’s then dispersed to everybody in the community with the understanding that the only way this money comes in is if there are plenty of healthy, happy cats wandering around past those cameras. And that means no poaching of those animals. That means, you know, eating all of the food that those animals need to eat because they need that prey base. That means not cutting down the forest where they live, because they need the, all of that in order to survive. So if there’s a big cat living in an area and thriving in an area, that means that whole area, that whole ecosystem is intact and it’s working and that needs fresh air for everybody that means clean water for everybody.
Carole Baskin (34:30):
And then you’ve got that revenue share that that’s the word I was looking for. That revenue share that’s coming into those cities or villages that is providing them with a level of care or a level of, um, a level of quality of life to purchase the food and the things that they need that they may not be able to afford otherwise. So it it’s such a, I just, I don’t see a flaw in this program. And so I’m just begging everybody steal this, run with this. I don’t, I don’t need to be in that business. I don’t want to be in that business. I want somebody with a lot more foresight and deeper pockets to take that and change the way we’re dealing with wild animals. Yeah.
Rob Hanna (35:12):
Yeah. And it’s a fabulous cause. And that’s a great example of where, you know, actually technology can be done for good to help animals. So yeah, I love that. So going back to targeting, you’ve spoken about how you felt the producers misrepresented the nature of the show to you. Did you ever take any legal proceedings against them for that?
Carole Baskin (35:30):
We were actually talking about that last night. Um, I have four years. I understand to bring a cause of action them. I’m currently a little bit concerned about what they plan to do in season two, because we had signed a release. And for season one, even though I feel like we were grossly misled in what that was and what their intents were, but I don’t think that gives them the right to then use anything that they shot of me or my sanctuary over the past five years in a season two. And so that’s what we’re debating right now is whether or not, um, we have a legal course of action. Maybe you guys, I mean, this is like what the legally speaking podcast, you probably know better than I do, whether or not I have an action there. I did a rebuttal at bigcatrescue.org/Netflix. And what I did was I went through minute by minute of the film and said, here’s what you saw on the screen, but here’s what was going on behind the scenes and in hopes of people reading that and seeing that they had just been so misled, not so much by any particular word or sentence that was stated, but in the juxtaposition of those things, one of the things that comes to mind to me is my husband’s daughters, you know, being so upset about the loss of their father.
Carole Baskin (36:48):
And then the camera will cut to me in this slow motion, evil look into the camera. That was probably something where the camera guy had been like, would you do it again this way? Would you do it again this way? And by the 10th time, I’m like, Oh, would you for Christ sake, just stop that. And that’s the image that had nothing to do with what they were saying. That would then be up on the screen for people to have as their lingering thought of what I must’ve been thinking about what they were saying. It had nothing like that. We were never in the same room. Didn’t talk to each other about any of that.
Rob Hanna (37:18):
Yeah. I understand as well, you previously dealt with lawyers on a number of occasions, but since airing of the show, you’ve become internationally renowned for your fantastic work in the field of conservation of big cats. Has your international fame changed the way lawyers potentially treat you?
Carole Baskin (37:36):
I don’t think so. I mean, there’s certainly been, there’s been a couple of people who I felt like were trying to ride the fame of tiger King by filing suits against me. But I don’t, I don’t think that that changes how lawyers in general think about me. I think those are just the personal actions of a couple of people.
Rob Hanna (37:55):
Yeah. I believe also in the past, I understand lawyers really hounded you. For example, when your husband Don went missing and you had a long legal battle with Will and Probate attorneys who didn’t even give you the time to grieve your missing husband, what did you feel like? How do you think attorneys could have been more human or even empathetic with our approach?
Carole Baskin (38:17):
I live in a neighborhood where, um, I’m in real estate for a living. And back in the eighties, I was dealing with a, uh, real estate attorney about a piece of property. And then I found out that he had lied to me and I came to him and I said, I can’t believe that you lied to me. And he said, don’t, you know, all attorneys and I, that was like my first, what attorneys lie? Why on earth would attorneys lie? That just seems so wrong. And so I was just so naive in how people behave and why they do what they do. I can’t believe that any of the attorneys involved in the conservatorship really thought I had anything to do with the disappearance of my husband, but they were hired by people who were paying them to, to represent their, their interest in their interest was in trying to grab as much of the estate as they possibly could.
Carole Baskin (39:10):
So I just, you know, I never had any, um, harsh words with any of the people that were doing that during that period of time, there were some that I had to really bite my tongue. Um, in fact, after tiger King air, my attorney who had been my attorney during the conservatorship called me up and he said, I just cannot believe the way all of that was portrayed because you were so gracious to Don’s daughters. You gave them so much more than he ever wanted them to have. Cause he had told me to completely write them out and not to give them a dime. And he hadn’t even talked to any of them in over a year because he didn’t want anything to do with them after they had decided with his wife, when she came back, I think four or five years after their divorce, trying to get more money. And I felt like these were his kids. And I had set aside a trust for them when we got married, because he didn’t care to do it himself. So I did it and we made sure that they got that money. And yet when they wanted more, they hired the attorneys who were willing to do or say anything to try and get it.
Rob Hanna (40:15):
Yeah. And switching to more sort of positives, I guess you absolutely must talk about the phenomenal work that you have done lobbying laws and truly pioneering the way big cats are protected on an international scale. So you have discussed, the next focus is getting the federal bill passed the big cat public safety act passed. Tell us a bit about this act, what it will do and how long it’s taken you to get this recognized
Carole Baskin (40:41):
In 1998 was when we first realized, or I first realized that the only way we were going to fix this problem was through better laws. And so we started campaigning for what was called the captive wild animals safety act. And what that did was it made it illegal to sell big cats across state lines as pets, but there were a lot of loopholes. And so ever since 2003, when that bill passed and that bill actually passed unanimously in a Republican controlled Senate, Congress and president, which was unheard of, but that showed how much we needed that law in 2003. In fact, in 2003, I had to turn away 312 big cats that was in addition to all of them. I was able to rescue, but there were 312 that were in need of rescue that I didn’t have the resources or space for. And every other year that number was doubling.
Carole Baskin (41:32):
And when that bill passed in 2003, the very next year, the number of cats that I had to turn away, it dropped dramatically to like 160 something. And that’s what made me know, okay, we’re on the right path here. We need stronger laws. And of course I worked with all of the organizations like the humane society of the United States and international fund for animal welfare and animal welfare Institute, all of those organizations, whenever they would have campaigns, because we didn’t have the lawyers or lobbyists to do this, but when they would have campaigns in States, what we had done was built a enormous fan base on social platforms. And so we would rally all of those people. If this was happening in Indiana, get in there, tell your Indiana representatives that you want this bill to pass. And so that was our participation in getting all of these state laws, passed the state bands on the cats.
Carole Baskin (42:26):
And we started also in 2004 in trying to, um, close the loopholes that were in our 2003 and every year there’s two years or every two years. Cause it’s two year sessions. What we find is we have failed because we wanted too much. And we had to keep giving up that some pieces of what we wanted. So like we wanted to originally we wanted the big cat public safety act, which is our current bill. We wanted it to ban the cup petty, which is what drives the vast majority of the abuse. And to phase out the private ownership. And every time we work on a bill to phase out private ownership or ban private ownership, we always have to caveat that people should be able to keep the animals. Yeah. But they should never be able to buy or breed more. And because, you know, if they do have a bond with their animal and if they are trying to take care of them, we don’t want government agencies to come in and seize these cats.
Carole Baskin (43:25):
If, if that’s the case, we don’t want it to be a property rights issue, but they just shouldn’t be able to buy our breed more. And so the original versions of the bill did things like it got rid of the circus. Well, the circus was a huge, huge opponent of the bill. Thankfully, now the circuits doesn’t exist. When I say circus it’s wrinkling is the only one that had the money to fight this. And so even though there’s a couple of little surfaces out there, they’re not the vast problem that we felt like wrangling was. And so other things in the bill were things like if you lost your USDA license, you couldn’t just have your husband to get a license or your child to get a license. And we had to drop that from the bill, even though for crying out loud, it’s the same place.
Carole Baskin (44:10):
It’s the same animals. It’s the same abuse. It’s just a different name on the paper. And so we’ve had to give that up and, you know, any kind of requirements for better caging or better, better oversight or all of those kinds of things we’ve had to drop. So the only two things that our current version of this bill has is to stop the cup petting, make that illegal so that people cannot go and pedicab anywhere. And to phase out the private possession of big cats. So it came up for a vote before the house in December of 2020, and it passed with a two thirds majority vote, which is just unbelievable. Given the fact that Congress is fighting so much with each other. It was a bi-partisan people could agree and it passed. But unfortunately it was December of 2020, which was the end of the session. And we never got it in front of the Senate in time. So we have re-introduced in January of this year and we now have over 160 co-sponsors in the house and just yesterday the Senate, re-introduced their bill. And so what we can now do is push to get a hearing on the floor in both houses and hopefully get this done this year. And I think we will
Rob Hanna (45:23):
Cross, we have every hope for you. And of course, Carole, before we wrap up, please, could you share your fantastic catchphrase with all of our listeners we’ve been done?
Carole Baskin (45:32):
Hey, all you cool cats and kittens?
Rob Hanna (45:36):
Yes! Thank you so so much Carole. And if people want to follow or get in touch about anything we’ve discussed today, what’s the best way for them to do that. Feel free to shout out any web links or relevant social media. We’ll also share them with this episode for you too.
Carole Baskin (45:50):
If you go to bigcatrescue.org, we have over 10,000 pages of information and you’ll find all of the links to all of our social sites. We are big cat rescue everywhere, or I’m Carole Baskin everywhere.
Rob Hanna (46:04):
Thank you so so much. Carole has been an absolute pleasure having on the legally speaking podcast. We’d like to wish you lots of continued success with all your fantastic work with big cat rescue, but from all of us on the show over and out.
Carole Baskin (46:17):
Thank you so much.
Rob Hanna (46:20):
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Legally Speaking Podcast. If you enjoyed the show and want to help support us, remember to leave us a rating and review on Apple iTunes, you can also support the show and gain exclusive benefits, bonus content, and much more by signing up to our Patreon page, which is www.patreon.com/legallyspeakingpodcast. Thanks for listening.