Carole Baskin (born on June 6, 1961) is an American big-cat rights activist and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit animal sanctuary in Tampa, Florida.
When Carole Baskin was included in the 2020 Netflix Tiger King documentary series about Oklahoma-based private zoo operator Joe Exotic, Baskin attracted media attention.
The Netflix series follows both Baskin and Joe Exotic, filming their ongoing and worsening feuds at private zoos over exotic animals. After the series’ publication, Baskin was the target of internet memes and conspiracy theories linked to Don Lewis, her second husband’s disappearance.
Carole Stairs Jones was born on 6 June 1961 in Bexar County, Texas, on the Lackland Air Force Base. She showed an interest in saving cats when she was nine but after discovering that veterinarians euthanize animals, she chose not to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. She dropped out of high school and left home with an employee of a nearby roller rink. Baskin then hitchhiked back and forth between Bangor, Maine, and Florida, sleeping under parked vehicles. She bought a Datsun truck later and slept with her pet cat in the back.
Lewis worked at a Tampa department store at the age of 17. She started breeding show cats to make money; she also started saving bobcats and used llamas for a lawn trimming service. She married her second husband in January 1991 and joined his real estate agency.
Carole Baskin and her husband Don founded Wildlife on Easy Lane, an animal sanctuary for big cats near Tampa, in 1992 as Carole Lewis. She is the current chief executive officer of the shelter, which, after the loss of Lewis in 1997, she called Big Cat Rescue. To encourage advocacy against private zoos, she has used social media such as Facebook and YouTube and her “The Cat Talk” podcast. She has been described as an animal rights activist by The New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter.
Carole Baskin was cast on Dancing with the Stars in season 29 in 2020. She danced a Paso to Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger with partner Pasha Pashkov on the September 14 season premiere of the series and they received 13 out of a possible 30, the lowest cumulative score of the evening. In the meantime, during the broadcast on select Florida television markets, including Tampa, the family of Lewis and their attorney ran and appeared in a promotional advertisement urging someone to come forward with details about his disappearance and offered a $100,000 reward.
When she was 17, Carole Baskin moved in with Michael Murdock, her boss at the department store where she worked. The couple was married on 7 April 1979. Baskin claimed she never loved him and just married him because her parents were upset that they were living outside of their marriage together. She became pregnant soon after, and on July 16, 1980, her daughter, Jamie Veronica Murdock, was born.
According to Baskin, Carole Baskin threw a potato at Murdock in 1981, when she was 19, while he tried to attack her. She ran barefoot out of their home to meet her next partner, Don Lewis, on Tampa’s Nebraska Road. She was involved in an affair with Lewis when both were still married. She became one of several girlfriends of Lewis, and by helping him buy and sell real estate in 1984 she dramatically increased his fortune. The pair divorced their respective wives and married in 1991 afterward.
Lewis was fascinated with sex, according to Baskin, and would always travel to Costa Rica, where he had extensive real estate assets, to have affairs – scheduling the trips for while she was menstruating. Lewis filed a restraining order against her in July 1997, alleging she had tried to kill him; the restraining order was dismissed. Baskin argues that he filed the restraining order because whenever he visited Costa Rica, she would move some of his “junk” lands. Afterward, Lewis kept living with Baskin. On several occasions, Lewis told her that he wanted a divorce, but she didn’t think he was ever serious about it. She said months before he disappeared she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
In August 1997, Lewis died and was pronounced legally dead in 2002. A conflict ensued over the estate between Baskin and Lewis’s children, with Baskin as the main inheritor prevailing. As of 2020, the case of his disappearance remains open.
In November 2002, at a kick-off party for the newly founded No More Homeless Pets group, she met Howard Baskin. Soon after, as chairman of the advisory board, he joined Big Cat Rescue. In November 2003, he proposed to her, and in November 2004, they married.
Joe Exotic feud and Tiger King
Carole Baskin has had a long-running rivalry with the former owner of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, who goes by the nickname Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic reported that the disappearance of Lewis included Baskin. Exotic engaged in abuse trends against Baskin including violation of trademarks. A court-ordered Baskin to pay $1 million in damages in 2013 which resulted in his bankruptcy. He was accused of trying to recruit a hitman to murder her in 2020.
In June 2020, a federal judge granted Baskin and Big Cat Rescue the former zoo property of Joe Exotic because Joe Exotic fraudulently transferred the real estate of the zoo to his mother to escape creditors, especially the judgment against him by Baskin. Jeff Lowe’s existing zoo operation on the property was given 120 days to vacate their animals from the property.
Universal Content Productions revealed in November 2019 that they are adapting a Joe Exotic podcast for television, with Carole Baskin played by Kate McKinnon. In March 2020 the Netflix documentary Tiger King featured Baskin. She subsequently spoke out against the sequence, calling it “salacious and sensational,” and criticizing directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin.
Carole Baskin said that when they questioned her about it, the filmmakers lied about the purpose of the series, saying that they told her that they were going to make “the big cat version of Blackfish.” After Tiger King was released, Baskin and her speculated involvement in Lewis’s disappearance were attacked by many Internet memes.
Carole Baskin has lobbied Congress, through her company Big Cat Rescue, to ban the private trade and possession of exotic cats.
Carole Baskin gave the Democratic candidates primarily from 2005 to 2016, but all but one of her donations have gone to Republicans since 2017. In the past three years, her only contribution to a Democrat was to the 2020 presidential campaign of Cory Booker.