Federal Judge Awards Joe Exotic’s Zoo to Carole Baskin

In another sign that the ridiculousness of 2020 will seemingly never end, we are reminded that the worst year on memory still has a poster boy: Joe Exotic. Recently, the zoo Exotic was synonymous with for so long was awarded to quite possibly Exotic’s biggest foe as he sits and waits in a cage of his own.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us were able to fill our “shelter-in-place” daily routine of boredom (at least for some time), with the tale of Joe Exotic, the flamboyant and outspoken owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. Exotic was already familiar to many Oklahomans who had either been to the zoo or remember his failed run for state governor in 2018.

"Tiger King"

Outside of Oklahoma, Netflix’s series Tiger King did a great job of exposing Exotic to the rest of the world. The eight-part true crime documentary delved into the life and exploits of Exotic as he worked to keep his zoo afloat, all the while obsessing over his grudge with Carole Baskin, “an American big-cat rights activist and CEO of Big Cat Rescue.”

Much of Tiger King focuses on the intense feud between the two and Exotic’s ultimate fall from grace as a result. He is currently serving a twenty-two-year federal sentence due to jury verdicts convicting him of murder for hire, falsifying wildlife records, killing tigers, and selling tigers across state lines.

The lawsuit

The recent win for Baskin stems from her first legal victory of Exotic. She filed a lawsuit against him for trademark infringement back in 2011. In that case, she alleged that Exotic had used logos and other artistic elements that were “confusingly similar” to materials that Big Cat Rescue had trademarked. That case resulted in a federal court judgment of nearly $1 million against Exotic in 2013. He vowed that he didn’t plan to pay a dime to Baskin or the Big Cat Rescue.

The legal resolution

At the time of the 2013 judgment, Exotic remarked that the zoo where his animals are kept would simply file for bankruptcy and move forward with the zoo under a new corporation. Fast forward to 2020, and that strategy doesn’t appear to have worked out too well for him.

On June 1, 2020, U.S. District Judge Scott Palk granted control of the zoo previously owned by Exotic to the Big Cat Rescue Corp. to satisfy, in part, the judgment that Baskin and Big Cat Rescue had already secured against Exotic.

As Exotic had made clear, he did not plan on paying any of the judgment, and he went so far as to transfer ownership of the zoo to his mother in hopes of avoiding any obligation to pay. The federal judge found that the transfer of the property to Exotic’s mother was nothing more than a fraudulent attempt to make sure Exotic did not have assets that could be converted to payments. As for now, Exotic isn't left with much aside from his pending lawsuit filed against the United States federal government and the Grady County (Oklahoma) jail in which he is seeking, in part, $94 million from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

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