Joe Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, has a second chance at fame with Netflix’s docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. The true-crime series highlights the lengths Joe Exotic has gone to keep his private zoo running. The vibrant personality he is, Joe Exotic has had many simultaneous careers. While his exact net worth hasn’t been calculated, it is estimated that he built a fortune of millions. So how did Joe Exotic earn his wealth?
Joe Exotic Came from a Wealthy Rural Family
Born Joseph Schreibvogel, he is one of five children raised in a rural farming family in Kansas. The family was wealthy, but the kids were far from pampered.
Maldonado-Passage doesn’t have fond memories from when he was a child. He claims that he and his siblings were born only to be farmhands.
His father, whom locals referred to Francie, decided to get into the racehorse breeding business. He relocated the family first to a property in Wyoming that Maldonado-Passage describes was massive enough to be an entire mountainside. Francie Schreibvogel later moved his family to a ranch in Texas, where they lived in a large eight-bedroom house.
Joe Maldonado-Passage would later receive $250,000 in family inheritance from a wealthy grandfather.
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Joe Started His Zoo in His Brother’s Name
Joe Exotic wasn’t close to anyone in his family, except his older brother Garold Wayne Schreibvogel. Garold shared Joe’s love for animals and dreamed of owning a zoo of exotic animals.
Joe had a stint as a cop, got disowned by his father for coming out of the closet, tried to kill himself and underwent rehab from that accident in Florida. He would later open a pet store in Arlington with Garold and his first husband, Brian Rhyne.
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The brothers ran the store successfully, expanding it with more cages and more animals. But in October 1997, Garold was killed by a drunk driver.
The family won $140,000 in a lawsuit related to Garold’s death. Joe, who had too many bad memories in Texas at that point, left the state with Rhyne.
Joe Exotic bought 16 acres of land in Wynnewood, Oklahoma from that money and opened the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park in 1999. The now-famous zoo was later renamed to The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, or GW Exotic.
General admission to Joe Exotic’s zoo was $15 for an adult and $10 for children. But the biggest income source was a special VIP tour that cost $175 per person. For an extra $50, visitors could also enjoy playtime with the baby animals and get a selfie with them.
Along with donations, the zoo reported total revenue of $117,022 in 2001. That number grew to $539,320 in 2006.
Joe Exotic turned himself into a brand from his very own gift shop. He sold everything from alcohol to skincare products in the gift shop. He also opened a pizza joint and a bar not far from the zoo.
Joe Sold Animal Cubs for Profit
When Joe Exotic first started his zoo, exotic pet owners dropped off the animals they were disenchanted with. After starting with a deer, buffalo, mountain lion, and a bear, the park grew to house tigers, lions, alligators, and even ligers.
Maldonado-Passage’s beef with animal rights groups would also begin as soon as the zoo opened. His first reported animal cruelty incident was when he shot and killed a flock of emaciated emus.
The zoo was struggling to keep up with the growing number of animals.
After his first husband Rhyne passed away in 2001, Joe moved on with JC Hartpence, who helped Joseph Schreibvogel become Joe Exotic.
Hartpence helped Joe develop a traveling animal and magic show that would visit malls, fairs, and other venues and let people pet tiger cubs. Joe would be the flamboyant front man of the show under different stage names, but became most notoriously known as Joe Exotic.
With its growing number of animals and the show’s popularity, the zoo also hired more employees.
According to some reports, Joe reduced costs by paying the zoo staff $150 a week. This is below minimum wage, but he also provided room and board. Most of these people came from rough backgrounds, so they seemed thankful for the opportunity.
Some of the employees couldn’t afford food, so they’d eat some of the expired goods donated by a department store for the animals. In fact, when Joe Maldonado-Passage opened a restaurant, he got in trouble for using the same expired products for ingredients.
Among the new employees was Joe Exotic’s future husband, John Finlay. Around that time, his relationship with Hartpence broke down over Hartpence’s growing drug issues and the management of the zoo.
Hartpence wanted to run the zoo as a rehab and rescue sanctuary for animals. Maldonado-Passage wanted to keep breeding the animals and selling them for a profit.
Hartpence left the zoo, leaving Maldonado-Passage to continue his cub-breeding and cub-petting ventures. This is what made him an enemy of animal rights activists, like Carole Baskin. Moreover, these activists were questioning the conditions in which the animals were kept.
To reduce costs, Maldonado-Passage fed the animals roadkill and expired grocery store products. It’s unknown exactly how much Joe sold tiger cubs for. But Finlay said in the docuseries that Joe would earn a $2,000 profit on the sale of one cub.
Maldonado-Passage didn’t earn much of a profit from his popular YouTube broadcasts and country music career, all aimed at disparaging Carole Baskin. He made the bulk of his money from selling animals.
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Joe Filed for Bankruptcy
When Baskin and other activists began calling venues and getting Joe Exotic’s shows cancelled, he launched a furious campaign against them. Baskin was the focus of most of his hatred through his home studio YouTube show and music.
To up the ante, he began using Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue sanctuary logo and name in his shows. He gave out business cards and fliers with Big Cat Rescue’s name and Florida number.
Maldonado-Passage’s plan to get under Baskin’s skin worked, until she sued him for trademark infringement. The Tiger King was ordered to pay Baskin $1.0 million in punitive damages.
The legal battle dragged on for years. The mounting legal fees forced Maldonado-Passage to accept the settlement, but he would go on to foil Baskin’s attempts to collect the million dollars.
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Joe Exotic filed for bankruptcy and dissolved the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Foundation Memorial Park, which was registered under his name. Along with his associates, he formed a new entity, the G. W. Interactive Zoological Foundation to temporarily stop Baskin’s collection attempts.
Maldonado-Passage also allegedly transferred titles related to the zoo to his mother, Shirley, and made illegal fund transfers to her.
Additionally, Joe Exotic’s clashes with Carole Baskin landed him in legal debt. That forced him to take on a business partner, Jeff Lowe. But their personalities clashed, too.
Maldonado-Passage’s resentment for Baskin only grew…until he was looking for contract killers to have Baskin murdered. He was asking his business associates if they knew any hitmen who would do the job for $10,000.
The Tiger King attempted to hire a zoo employee named Allen Glover to kill Baskin, paying him $3,000 upfront. The employee allegedly had no intention of killing her and escaped with the money. He would testify at Joe Maldonado-Passage’s trial that the Tiger King had indeed tried to hire him to kill Carole Baskin.
While Joe Exotic is in federal prison, his zoo is still operational, but it’s not bringing in revenue. Jeff Lowe is in the process of dismantling the zoo and relocating the animals.
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