Long for Netflix’s the infamous Tiger King ‘Joe Exotic’ became a household name, he was already making waves as a pet store owner in Arlington, Texas.
A lifelong animal lover, Joe Maldonado-Passage, nee Schreibvogel, 57, opened the ‘Pet Safari’ store in 1986 with his first husband and brother Garold.
When he died in a car accident in 1997, he sold the pet store for $ 70,000 and founded the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.
When the zoo opened in 1999, Joe always claimed it would fulfill his brother’s dreams, but it wouldn’t be long.
Today, the disgraced former zookeeper is better known for spending 22 years in prison for his involvement in a murder and wildlife lease – as documented in explosive detail in Netflix’s sensational documentary series Tiger King.
The Netflix star’s flamboyant plot against animal rights activist Carole Baskin and other charges against animals, including euthanizing exotic cats, has made him a hate figure among animal rights activists.
What many people don’t know is that there was another incident that preceded events that would come with a swarm of emus and there was much more drama in between.
Striking news stories from Joe’s pet shopping period, including mysterious snake theft.
The Dallas News previously reported “in the summer of 1993, his store was the target of two snake robbers.”
In all, seven snakes were stolen, including a red-tailed boa constrictor named Scooby and six pythons.
Joe reportedly slept in the loaded gun store in case it happened again.
An 18-year-old man was eventually arrested for the crime and three of the snakes were found.
In 1997, at the age of 34, Joe made headlines again, claiming he would have been the target of homophobic harassment.
A slew of reports flooded the offices of city officials over the pet store because of various violations, such as cigarette butts in the parking lot, as well as complaints of flying American flags with rainbow stripes (gay pride).
“The prejudice must stop. Why should gay people not enjoy a family day without prejudice? “he said.” You don’t choose this life. This is the way you were born, ” he told a reporter.
He went on to open another store called Super Pets, on the same square, but claimed even more abuse.
“It is unfortunate that they are homophobic,” he said. “They’re trying to find an excuse to bankrupt me.”
Around this time, a controversial incident occurred in February 1999 in which a number of emus evolved.
The Dallas News reported at the time that animal officials found malnourished emus from Joe, making amok, and dozens of other dead birds.
A slew of volunteers, including some Red Oak High School Future Farmers of America, and the police struggled to collect the fast birds when Joe offered to bring the emus to his Oklahoma zoo.
A report from the time said the makeshift emu collectors “found themselves struggling against birds nearly the size of humans and capable of making great kicks with claw feet.”
Another report said the large birds caused multiple injuries and nine died later in transit.
Joe was later caught on a videotape shooting several emus with a gun.
He was said to say it was “more humane than to give them the ordeal of being caught and moved.”
Red Oak police chief Doug McHam hit back and said, “You can’t come here and say, ‘I’m going to save all these birds,’ then say, ‘I have to kill them because I’m getting tired,'” said.
The incident prompted Joe to sign his rights to a flock of 160 surviving emus and the case went to trial, but Joe was found not guilty of animal cruelty.
Not long after, and spurred on by his brother’s death in a car accident in 1997, Joe closed his Texas shop for good, claiming that the emu incident’s negative press “was harming his business.”
He moved to the Oklahoma Zoo for good, where the infamous Tiger King was born.
Despite decades of imprisonment in MC Fort Worth prison, the incarnated star would enjoy receiving a lot of fan mail on the back of the seven-part Netflix hit.