In 2018, self-proclaimed “Tiger King” Joe Maldonado-Passage wanted to expand his animal empire. So he purchased 28 gray wolves from Fur-Ever Wild.
Run by Terri Petter, Fur-Ever Wild was a petting zoo/slaughterhouse located in Eureka Township, near outer-ring suburbs like Lakeville and Farmington. People would pay for access to cute, docile wolf pups, coyotes, and other wild animals. But once those animals reached a certain age, they would be killed for their fur.
In 2017, a federal lawsuit was filed against Fur-Ever Wild and Petter by the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center and the Animal Legal Defense Fund citing violations of the Endangered Species Act. But just as Lockwood was set to seize the animals from the property, they disappeared without a trace.
That's where Joe Exotic comes in. Christopher Berry, the ALDF attorney behind the Fur-Ever lawsuit, soon received tips that Exotic was posting on his Facebook page about adding wolves to his ever-growing menagerie. The timing was a little suspicious. “Joe Exotic stating that he had just acquired 28 wolves coincided with Fur-Ever Wild’s [wolf disappearance],” says Berry.
His dreams of becoming a “Wolf King” didn’t go as planned, however, as Exotic quickly discovered that he didn’t have the training, knowledge, or facilities to care for the creatures. Tipsters next alerted ALDF that Exotic was trying to sell at least four pups on social media (imagine discovering that post on Facebook Marketplace).
Berry sent Exotic a legal letter warning him that he had violated the Endangered Species Act when he brought the wolves across state lines, and that selling protected animals on social media was illegal.
“[Exotic responded with a] profanity-laden tirade, one in which he ultimately concluded that the wolves were a pain to deal with,” says Berry. “They were running amok in the facility and digging their way out of the enclosures... so he offered to let Lockwood Animal Rescue Center take them off him.”
Lockwood was able to pick up 25 of the 28 animals from his Oklahoma-based zoo, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. Of the three missing, Joe stated one had died from infection, and two had disappeared.
The recovery effort was featured in an episode of Animal Planet’s Wolves and Warriors, a reality show that documents Lockwood’s efforts to rehabilitate neglected animals. Exotic makes an appearance, referring to the animals as “bitches” and explaining that he's just a nice guy trying to save some wolves.
“We got a phone call from a lady up in Minnesota,” Exotic tells the camera crew. “She had over 20 wolves, and she needed to get rid of them by that Tuesday. So we ended up with something like 26 wolves—that I didn’t need.”
“Private breeding, possession, and exploitation of animals like wolves is wrong,” says Berry. “It causes animals to suffer, and that’s what we saw as a result of the wolves going to Joe Exotic’s property. Animals shouldn’t be bred and exploited for profit.”
As to where the remaining wolves of Fur-Ever Wild’s stash ended up? The truth remains a mystery—probably because, as far as we know, Exotic was the only buyer advertising his wolves on social media.
And that was the end of Joe Exotic’s dabbling in wolf ownership. Not too long after, Exotic found himself sentenced to 22 years in prison for an attempted hit job and a variety of tiger-related fuckery, all of which is documented on Netflix’s mega-hit show Tiger King.