Carole Baskin is a famous animal conservationist and businesswoman. She owns a non-profitable organization “Big Cat Rescue” which is an animal shelter located near Tampa, Florida. Her current husband has coined her as “mother Terresa of cats”. She attracted public attention when she was featured in the Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” (2020) based on the life of zookeeper “Joe Exotic”. The documentary showed the decade long feud between Carole and Joe Exotic. She became a point of discussion when she was accused of murdering her husband, and alegdly disposing of his remains in a meat grinder and feeding him to her cats in the facility.
As of April 2020, Carole Baskin’s reported Net worth is $20 million. To put this article together, we dug up deeply to cover every aspect of Carole Baskin’s life, we will debate on her net worth, husband controversy, her wiki/ bio, “Big Cat Rescue” and other lesser-known facts. So, without further ado let’s get started.
Walk Through the Article
Carole Baskin has made a great deal of money being a zoo operator and positioning herself as an animal rights activist. As CEO of the organization Big Cat Rescue, she received a great deal of donations and gathered a considerable sum of fortune through the zoo visitors. Her approximate net worth is $20 million. She became heir to the million-dollar property after the disappearance of her husband, Jack Donald Lewis. He disappeared in 1997 and was announced dead in 2002. After almost 5 years of his death, she won the lawsuit against his family and inherited the majority of his real estate business worth over $5 million and rebranded her Big Cat Sanctuary as Big Cat Rescue.
Carole Baskin was born Carole Stairs Jones on June 6th, 1961 in Lackland Air Force Base in Bexar County, San Antonio Texas. She was born into an extremely poor family to mother Mary Barbara Jean Norris Stairs and father Vernon Charles Stairs. Being hand-to-mouth, they could not even afford a crib for their daughter and she slept in the drawer. Her mother was a secretary at Television Station WEDU and her father was a cameraman. She is the only child of her parents.
She has a spiritual bonding with her grandmother but wasn’t particularly close to any family member except her pets. From the age of nine, she developed a heavy interest in the animals. She used to bring homeless cats’ home.
She attended first grade at Florida College Academy while by the time Baskin was in second grade the family moved to Panama where her father took a job as a flight instructor. In school she loved drawing, painting, skating and playing dodge ball.
Later, the family moved to Charlton West Virginia where they lived in a trailer park since her father got a job as a private pilot whee. Her family would move cities for 14 times in the first 13 years of her life.
She became self-reliant from a very young age, she refused to attend school to save her parents’ money and started living on her own. Then found a job and started working and rented an apartment.
In 1974, at the age of 14, she was sexually assaulted by three men. It was a devastating blow for her and may have led her to a downward spiral in later on in her teenage years. At the age of 16 Baskin developed drinking habit at the age of 16 and in 1977 she tried to kill herself by jumping off a bridge.
Carole Baskin’s Husband Don Lewis
Baskin married her first husband, Michael Murdock, on April 7th, 1979 at the age of 17. She got pregnant with their daughter Jamie in 1979. Carole said that she never really loved him and married him just to please her parents and he even forced himself on her. Emotionally shattered, she even tried to kill her child, by starving her.
In 1981, Baskin met Jack Donald Lewis on a roadside while running away from her husband. They ended up in a motel that same night.
Lewis was born on 30 April 1938 in Dade City, Florida, United States. He owned a real estate and second-hand car business through which he made a large amount of money and became a self-made millionaire in 1981. Before Carole Baskin, he was married to Gladys Lewis Cross. The couple had three daughters and one adopted son.
Baskin fell for him right away and they began a secret affair at first. In 1991, they got married after getting divorced from their respective spouses. They had a 20-year age gap.
In 1991, Carole and Lewis co-founded “Wildlife on Easy Street” an animal facility to provide shelter and care to big cats in Tampa. However, they both wanted to run it differently, Carol wants it to operate as a non-profit organization, while Lewis wanted it to function as a business.
The couple went through a rough patch when Carole stated that Lewis was having extramarital affairs, he was a sex addict and during her menstruation cycle, he would recurrently visit Costa Rica to engage in sexual activity with other girls. In 1997, Lewis decided to transfer the propriety rights of his assets to his company in Florida, Costa Rica. The following year in July, he lodged a protective order against Carole, accusing her for giving him death threats and hiding his gun so that he couldn’t defend himself. However, the complaint was rejected by the court. As per Carole’s statement, Lewis filed the restraining order because she removed some of his scraps and old belongings during his time in Costa Rica. He asked Carole for a divorce multiple times but she thought he was not firm about it.
Don Lewis’ Disappearance
On August 18, 1997, Lewis left home early around 6 am to make a delivery and never came back. Two days after Baskin had reported the disappearance to police, on August 20, his white Dodge Ram Van was found at the pilot country Airport, Springhill, Florida which is 64 km away from the facility. The keys were discovered from the floorboard and the van had been parked there for two days. There was no evidence or signs of struggle found. He had even bought a plane ticket for Costa Rica and his equipment was loaded on a truck, ready for departure before he vanished.
The Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office visited “Wildlife on Easy Street Sanctuary and Bagaces, a town in Costa Rica where Lewis had 200-acre park for investigation and no foul play was suspected. Though they found out his involvement in unlawful business activities. Lewis was declared dead in 2002 five years later and no one has been arrested for his murder. The fortune he left behind was worth over $5 million includes estate, stocks, and other financial assets. Carole and Lewis’s children fought over the rightful ownership of his assets but in the end Carole inherited most of his fortune.
Lewis children believed that Carole killed and fed Lewis to her tigers, and the investigation was not properly conducted as there was no DNA test conducted on her meat grinder, that she might have used to grind Lewis flesh. Baskin replied to these allegations saying that if she had fed Lewis to tigers there would be human bones found and further that meat grinder was long gone from the sanctuary before Lewis disappeared.
She shared her dismay regarding these theories saying, “Can you imagine having people think you killed your husband and not being able to prove otherwise? Without a body, there is nothing I can do to clear my name.”
Carole blamed his disappearance over his failing mental condition. He was losing his memory and displaying signs of Alzheimer’s disease. She said before he went missing, he would search in the dumpsters, junk and hoarding vehicles. But Lewis’s friends and acquaintances including his lawyer and business associate strongly rejected Carole’s theory saying she was spreading misinformation to provide a rationale behind Lewis’s sudden disappearance to clear her position.
Lewis disappeared at the age of 59. He has now been missing for more than 22 years and his case is still an open cold-case in 2020.
Carole Lewis’ latest husband Howard Baskin
In November 2002, she and Howard Baskin met at a kick-off event for “No More Homeless Pets”.
Howard Baskin grew up in New York and was a lawyer by training and had attended Union College which is a highly ranked prestigious private university which is more than 200 years old. Howard then went onto Miami School of Law and also has an MBA from Harvard. He also worked at Citicorp for more than 10 years where he was also a director.
After leaving Citicorp, Howard had focused on helping small businesses turn around as he said his super power was adding organization and structure to operations. Certainly something that helped at Big Cat Rescue.
After a short while after meeting Carole, he joined The Big Cat Rescue as chairman of the advisory board and helped rebrand to the wildlife sanctuary. Howard focused on the financial, strategy and legal side of the business while Carole focused on the marketing.
Howard’s legal skills came in handy when they decided to sue Joe Exotic for trademark infringement when Joe had used the Big Cat Rescue branding in a campaign to divert people to Joe’s offers.
In November 2003, Howard proposed Carole and they tied the knot next year in November 2004.
Big Cat Public Safety Act
The Big Cat Public Safety Act was something that the Baskin’s were heavily pursuing and it revises how big cats (such as lions, tigers, etc) can be traded in the country. It limits the breeding of cats which is quite popular amongst private zoos to increase numbers.
The ‘useful’ period of a tiger cub is in the first 12-16 weeks of it’s life when it can interact with the public without being a threat. After that age, the tigers end up become a liability as they can be dangerous.
It also limits direct contact by the public which is effectively how private zoos make their money (Joe Exotic would charge about $50 USD for a 6 minute pet with tiger cubs and allow photos to be taken).
The bill would also restrict the types of people that can keep big cats. Currently there is loose requirements on who can own such cats, but if the bill is passed, then only those registered with the US Department of Agriculture could keep such animals.
Big Cat Rescue
Formerly known as “Wildlife on Easy Street”, Big Cat Rescue was co-founded by Carole Baskin and her husband Jack Donald Lewis in 1991 and began operations in 1992. The sanctuary is constructed on 67 acres of land in the Citrus Park near North Tampa. It was started as a Bed and breakfast style to permit visitors to spend a night with a wild cat in their room. But they change the nature of the organization and converted it into charity in 1995. It became affiliated by The Association of Sanctuaries in 1998.
Big Cat Rescue claims to be one of the largest authorized sanctuaries in the world and leading proponent of captive and endangered big cats. The venue takes in about 26,000 visitors each year.
The sanctuary is a home for injured, crippled and orphaned wild cats. The facility is devoted to providing rehabilitation to animals experiencing trauma and violence. It is also making efforts to stop illegal smuggling and private trading of exotic cats through proper legislation.
It is registered with “Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries” as 501(c)(3) non-profitable organization and also a member of World Animal Protection. The facility is home to about 130 animals and also has a 10 back to back 4-star ratings from Charity Navigator. The sanctuary is also a part of the “International Tiger Coalition”.
In 2000, Wildlife on Easy for Street tried for accreditation with Association of Zoos and Aquariums to became a Certified associated facility but the application was rejected reasons being the shortage of trained zoological professionals, excessive visitor interaction with cats, absence of perimeter fencing and lack of prescribed veterinary programs. In 2003, the facility stopped the physical contact of any kind with cats.
In October 2014, a notice was issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on the complaint of Vernon Yates, Director of “Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation” for keeping a tiger in the insecure enclosure. Baskin responded saying that the cage was perfectly compliant.
The Big Cat Rescue has opened the world’s first AR zoo, in March 2019, where visitors can experience everything in augmented and virtual reality. They have live streaming videos of the zoo and includes live video feeds of surgeries of animals, although most feeds have viewing angles blocked.
The sanctuary claims it is not a zoo and distinguishes itself from being a zoo based on it’s “philosophy”. The zoo likes to differentiate itself by the fact that they do not charge for admissions for people to visit the animals for entertainment but instead charges patrons to come for an “educational tour”. They also claim to not purchase animals, but then the zoo commenced its operations by purchasing cats.
The Feud between Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic
Joe Exotic, former zookeeper, and owner of G.W. Exotic Animal Park located in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. The fued between Baskin and Exotic start back in the early 2000s. Baskin was unhappy about his ways of treating animals, so she began creating problems for his business, being a constant thorn in his side she notified malls to not book him for events, she even started online forums to defame and scrutinize him. Joe’s business was greatly affected.
The situation got even messier when Exotic began to use the logo and name of “Big Cat Rescue” to publicize his shows. In, January 2011, Baskin sued him in federal court for trademark infringement and in 2013 where she won a $1 million lawsuit against him.
That only added fuel to the fire, and Exotic was determined to take his revenge. He constantly made attempts to put her down. He had been obsessively mentioning Baskin in each episode of his YouTube channel “JoeExoticTV”. In one of his episodes, he said, “For Carole and all of her friends that are watching out there, If you think for one minute I was nuts before, I am the most dangerous exotic animal owner on this planet right now and before you bring me down, I believe that you will stop breathing. GOT THAT?”.
In 2018, Exotic was convicted for trying to hire two contract killers to murder Carole Baskin. On September 7th, 2018, he was arrested in Gulf Breeze, Florida and kept at Santa Rosa County Jail. On April 2, 2019, after a jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, he was convicted for a total of 19 counts, two counts of murder-for-hire, eight violations of the Lacey Act and nine infractions of the Endangered Species Act. In January 22, 2020, Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in federal jail.
Netflix Tiger King
On 20 March 2020, Netflix released a documentary inspired by the life Joe Exotic “Tiger King: Murder Mayhem and Madness”. The main subject of the eight-part miniseries is Zookeeper Joe Exotic and his fiery feud of Carol Baskin and Joe Exotic, who was accused of mistreating wild animals and convicted for murder charges.
Baskin expressed her disappointment about the series and criticized the directors’ Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin for lying about the nature of the show, saying that they were only making the big cat version of Blackfish which is a documentary about the plight of Orcas. She further added that they present her negatively about having a role in her husband’s disappearance to make it “salacious and sensational” to get higher ratings.
After the show, Baskin was inundated by internet memes on social media platforms as a potential murder suspect of Donald Lewis’s case. The Series received a favorable review from critics. According to Nielsen Tv Ratings, it has 34.3 million views within the first ten days of release.