Carole Baskin is easy to spot in the wild.
As she rolled her cheetah-print luggage into the lobby of a DC hotel on Friday morning, Baskin appeared at ease, wearing cheetah-print pants, a cheetah-print blouse with bursts of red poppies and shoes with calico cats printed on the front, her long blonde hair framing a striped tiger mask.
Her casual feline outfit was more than appropriate for the morning agenda. Her team, made up of her husband, Howard Baskin, and their lobbyist, Jason Osborne, were about to stop on the Hill to thank a Republican congressman for supporting The Big Cats Public Safety Act, a bill that would end the private property of big cats: lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars (oh my God?) and their variants.
âWe have 191 cosponsors in the House, currently 24 in the Senate,â Baskin said. “We have never been so early to launch the Senate and so many cosponsors of the bill.”
Sitting across from Baskin to talk about the details of his lobbying strategy was certainly surreal given the vindictive, possibly nefarious image the hit series conveyed. King tiger.
But perched in a leather armchair, talking about their weekly calls with stakeholders and years spent pushing lawmakers on this and other animal rights policies, Baskin seemed quite at home in a swamp. very different.
The lobbying effort by Baskin and other supporters of the bill has been partially recounted in The conservation game, a new documentary on how big cats used on television as little ones often find themselves in situations of exploitation and abuse. Baskin and other environmentalists have come to DC to promote the film’s release.
The bill, passed in the House 272-114 with a wide bipartite margin, blocked in the Senate, in part, the documentary is applying, due to lobbying from the Columbus Zoo and their main spokesperson, Jack Hanna, now retired TV personality and zoo advocate who has quit his post as heading to the zoo earlier this year.
But now there is renewed hope for the legislation. In April 2021, the Columbus Zoo announced its support for the bill.
Osborne, the Republican lobbyist and 2016 Trump veteran hired by Big Cat Rescue – the Baskins Wildlife Sanctuary in Tampa – said there were many reasons to be optimistic this Congress would bring the bill to the President’s office Joe Biden. Law enforcement, who usually end up having to deal with fleeing jungle cats, have joined the lobbying coalition and have been a powerful tool in attracting GOP members to the cause.
âEveryone loves their sheriff,â Osborne said. âThe sheriffs come in and say they were called in for a welfare checkâ¦ and they get there and there’s a tiger in the basement.
In The conservation gameBaskin is seen prowling the halls of Congress in relative anonymity with other activists. But the footage was taken before her passion for big cats, along with her feud with now-imprisoned former zoo owner Joe Exotic, turned her into a Netflix star. Now, while the strategy to get the bill passed is the same, which is to sign as many Republicans as possible, the meetings are a little different.
During her Hill session on Friday, for example, Baskin stopped by the office of Republican Rep. Alabama Barry Moore to take a photo with her daughter.
âThis reunion is happening because her daughter is a huge Carole fan,â Osborne said, noting that she was the one who brought the bill to the attention of her lawmaker father.
(Moore’s spokesperson said the congressman’s legislative staff reported the bill, but confirmed that his daughter took a photo with Baskin.)
“Either way, we’ll get this bill passed,” Baskin said with a laugh.
Attention to their cause, said Baskin, is one of the few perks of the fame of the King tiger docuseries, which explored the bizarre world of backyard zoos and the people who keep them. The series, among other things, involves Baskin missing her second husband, Don Lewis, in the belly of tigers – an allegation she denies and has never been linked or accused by law enforcement. Exotic, the show’s anti-hero, is currently serving 22 years in prison for hiring someone to kill Baskin.
Over the past year, the way Baskin has treated its staff and unpaid volunteers have also been the subject of criticism. On the same day the Big Cat Public Safety Act was passed in the House, Baskin Sanctuary made headlines after a volunteer nearly got her arm bitten by a tiger.
The Baskins claim they were misled by the directors of the show, who told them they were doing a “Black fish big cats ââa reference to the documentary that exposed the dangers of keeping orcas in captivity. Instead, said Howard Baskin, the backcountry story filled with thinly veiled allegations of murder and animal abuse turned their lives upside down.
King tigerthe producers of have publicly rejected against these characterizations.
âLook, the first three months have been horrible because all the hate messages have come in,â said Howard Baskin. But he added that if you look at last year, from around June or July 2020 until now, “everything has been set up for us.”
For Carole Baskin, infamy led her to briefly withdraw from advocacy, sometimes at the behest of other activists.
âPersonally, you know, I used to go with the groups and talk to the reps, and I was pretty much asked not to do that last year, because I suck it all up. air of the room. or they really want selfies or they want to talk about it King tiger and they don’t want to talk about what’s important, âshe said. âI have not been partially visible for a year because of the negative impact of King tiger. “
It was around the time of his (really unfortunate) stint at Dancing with the stars, she said, felt like she could get back into the advocacy space.
âIt took about six months. It was probably after Dancing with the stars, people saw that I wasn’t that bad bad guy that I was meant to be, and then [thought] maybe we shouldn’t hear what she has to say, âshe said, joking that her inability to dance must be endearing.
Her husband added that as painful as the “betrayal” by the King tiger producers, making Carole a celebrity had been a big plus for their mission. âIt gave Carole a platform,â he said.