Former Tiger King zookeeper John Reinke chats exclusively to Slingo about the highly anticipated new season of the Netflix series.
The highly anticipated series two of Tiger King has just dropped and with so much controversy surrounding the first season of the Netflix blockbuster, millions of viewers across the world will be gripped and intrigued to find out more. Former friend and zookeeper at Joe Exotic's G.W Zoo, John Reinke, spoke exclusively to Slingo about his relationship with Joe Exotic, the new series and plenty more.
What was it like working with Joe Exotic?
You know, everybody’s perception of Joe on the show is totally different than the way he was, he was much more flamboyant, obnoxious and a pain in the butt all the time. I loved him to death but he was a boss, and things went a lot smoother if he wasn’t there – if I ran the zoo when he was gone it was definitely easier.
I respected him and he’s a good guy, but he’s being perceived as somebody that he’s not – I know it’s hard to believe but he’s actually even more flamboyant in real life than Tiger King showed, that’s the best word for it.
Are you still in contact with Joe?
I am, I go through his attorneys most of the time, I’ve talked to him a couple of times now, I talk to him just because Joe is Joe and he won’t shut up! He keeps saying things on the phone which makes me nervous as it can all be used against him when he’s re-trialled. He still doesn’t like Carole Baskin, he still makes some comments about her, but he can say what he wants.
He still doesn’t like Jeff Lowe either. Jeff Lowe has turned sides, Jeff Lowe knows he’s in trouble, so he’s given all the information that the FBI coerced him into framing Joe, and they want all zoos in the world gone, that’s what they’re working on.
Have you heard much about Joe’s cancer diagnosis or treatment? How’s he doing?
I have, he’s got prostrate cancer and it’s at stage one right now. He’s waiting on a date to be re-sentenced, and when he gets re-sentenced, we can bring up all the evidence that they’ve come up with.
He was wanting to wait for treatment just because it’s at stage one right now, but somebody talked him into going ahead and they’ve moved him to North Carolina for his cancer treatment. He’s good, he’s still just mad as hell! I think he’s all right, we’re trying to keep him positive, he’s just got to stay mentally positive right now.
We’re close, we’ve just got a little bit further to go. He hasn’t lost his spark, every time I talk to him on the phone, he’s just like he was.
Do you think Joe deserves to be in jail?
Joe did do some things wrong, it was illegal to sell tigers, it’s not illegal to shoot old tigers, the most humane way you can put a tiger down is with a bullet, when you use drugs it just torments them, and if you shoot them with a bullet it’s instant and they’re down.
He did get charged for selling the tigers but he doesn’t deserve being charged for murder for hire, all those animal charges are all misdemeanours, which in the United States means a ticket or a fine. He’s done his time, he’s been in there almost three years, that’s plenty of time for what he did wrong, it’s time to get out.
The new season of Tiger King came out in the UK, what do you think of the new season?
It’s very informative, there’s a lot of stuff in the new season that people wouldn’t have known, it wasn’t near as a bad show as the first one was, they made the first one roll so fast, this one’s a little bit more documented and in depth about what’s going on. The Tim Stark saga – it took everything away from him, and that’s just wrong, I don’t know how they can just take your animals like that.
I hate to say it – they took Jeff Lowe’s animals away from him, – it’s wrong to just take somebody’s personal property away from them like that and just take what you want, they didn’t take all of them at first, they took what they wanted, and it’s wrong. But don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they took them away from Jeff Lowe because he was starving them to death.
So they were your animals to begin with and you haven’t seen them since?
They were, mine and Joe’s, I had three animals there, I had a lion, a monkey, and a camel that belonged to me, and Jeff Lowe just took them and would not give them back. I haven’t seen them since, he put my lion down, or he starved him to death or something, but I’ll never find out about that.
My camel, and my monkey got shipped off to God knows where because Peter, HSUS, and USDA got involved.
Do you have any animals at the moment?
I’ve just got three dogs now, but I do still babysit tigers and stuff when I’m not out running around and working, I still do help out some friends of mine who have cats.
What do you think about how much Tiger King as a series has blown up? Do people recognise you when you go out?
I just went to bed one night and woke up the next day, and it was worldwide number one for 28 days, I would never have thought that would happen. I thought it was just going to be a documentary that was put aside, every now and then somebody would watch it.
Season two is number one right now, I thought season two would blow up because everybody that watched the first one has to watch the second one. I’m pretty impressed with it, it’s a little different out there, I can’t go to Walmart, can’t go to the store without taking selfies and signing something.
I’m getting pretty good at my autograph now. It’s just weird to me, I was just doing my job, and we had cameras on us every day, everybody promised us all this was going to be big but we didn’t realise how big it was going to be.
What does life after Tiger King look like for you?
I still work every day, I’m a mechanic, I race cars, and I still babysit big cats for a few friends on mine so they can get away. I still interact with animals, I go to a couple of zoos, there’s a couple of favourite zoos I have. They welcome me, they don’t treat me badly or anything.
I was really scared when Tiger King came out that people would be react badly, but GW Zoo wasn’t that bad, we had a really nice facility when I ran it. I had a really cool zoo, I just had a lot of drama in the zoo.
Can you tell us a story about GW Zoo that isn’t on Tiger King?
I get it a lot but we had so much going on at that zoo, a lot of people don’t know this: me and Joe got bit by a tiger one day, we were moving a cat that was about a year and a half old and we were putting it in a roll around cage so we could move it to its big cage, and it got freaked out so it bit Joe and then bit me. You know I’ve got two prosthetic legs that are pretty hard from the knee down, so I survived but Joe had to take a helicopter ride.
We didn’t want media knowing about it, so we told everybody it was a chainsaw accident. As an inside joke, we named that tiger Chainsaw.
It bit Joe right at the knee, it bit me right at the knee, but it got mostly my prosthetic leg, it dug its claws into my shoe so deep that they stuck in, and they couldn’t get them out. And I was the only one left holding the tiger because Joe let go, so I’m inside that cage with that tiger until somebody came – and I needed my leg to walk so I had to get the leg back, but it all worked out well.
Would you ever want to work in a zoo again?
I actually want to, but I also don’t want to. All the drama and everything, when you work in a zoo like that, it’s 24/7 365 days a year, we didn’t get to go home for thanksgiving, we didn’t get to go home for Christmas. Joe would cook thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner and invite everybody in the public for free to come and eat. We did that every year, so I’m really not looking to commit that much more time anymore.
I was married for 31 years and that zoo cost me my marriage because I was never home, my boys grew up and I didn’t get to see a whole lot of their life growing up, so now I just like hanging out and going to the zoo and doing what I want to do when I want to do it.
What are your thoughts on Carole Baskin?
I do not like Carole Baskin, a lot of people don’t know it, but she actually sued me in federal court for me being at the zoo, just for working there. She went after every one of us, she released everybody that was working at the zoo except me, she still has me under, she can call me back into a lawsuit at any time. Yeah, I don’t like Carole. I have never spoken to her; it’s always been through processors and attorneys.
Did you see the news that Carole Baskin’s husband has actually been found alive and well?
It’s a rumour because I do know investigators that have went looking for him and have never said – that they’ve never proven it, so they’ve not got a body. Yeah, she did it, her little comments, her little snide remarks just all point to guilty. I think her and Kenny Farr had something to do with it, and Kenny Farr’s introduced in the second Tiger King series.
What do you think of Jeff Lowe helping Joe Exotic negotiate his re-sentencing?
I think Jeff Lowe is just taking care of Jeff Lowe, he’s not helping nobody, he is trying to get the monkey off his back because he’s in a lot of trouble right now. The Animal Rights people want him, the law wants him, he’s wanted in a couple of states, right now he’s MIA, nobody knows where he’s at, so he may have already left the country…
I try to avoid Jeff Lowe at all costs. Tiger King made it sound like Joe paid $3000 to have Carole killed by Alan Glover, but Joe paid Alan Glover $3000 to get him off the property because everytime Joe or I would go the bathroom or go get lunch he would always call Jeff Lowe, and let Jeff Lowe know what was going on.
I mean Alan ratted us out for anything we did even if we went to the store, he would call Jeff Lowe and let him know. And I just never liked Allen because of that, but Jeff Lowe, if he’s within talking distance of you, he’s recording you and videoing you.
The only people that do that are people that are guilty or are convicts, and that’s my perception of Jeff Lowe. The day I left, Jeff and Joe’s ex-husband Dillon got into a fist fight, rolling around grappling for 40 minutes and when that happened I told Jeff Lowe you’re 50 years old fighting a 20-year-old, I said I don’t have time for this, I’m done, and I walked away.
Jeff Lowe don’t like me because he called me a few weeks later and asked me if I’d come run to GW Zoo so he could get away for a couple of weeks, and I said no, and as soon as I said no, he just flipped the switch and went nuts, so yeah, I don’t have anything good to say.
Do you still talk to anyone other than Joe from the people featured in Tiger King?
Not really, I talk to Saff, the one that lost the hand in the first series, I talk to Saff every now and then, and my Uncaged Tiger King show that I do has Saff and Josh Dial and Barbara from Doc Antles place, I talk to them.
Everybody else has protected themselves with lawyers and you can’t talk to them unless you get an attorney, they’re all hiding something, I don’t have an attorney, I’m not hiding anything, they can come talk to me.
So, what’s next for you?
I just went on with my life, I go to visit zoos every now and again to get my animal fix because I still love big cats. There’s a lot that I know about them that I could share with people. I just do my job and enjoy life right now, I’m 55 and I’m not getting any younger.
Yeah, I just want to add as well; at the end of April or start May next year, my show ‘Uncaged Tiger King’ is supposed to be coming to the UK, we’re going to Ireland, Scotland, England, and we’re going to spend two weeks over there, for everybody that enjoyed it they can come and see us, meet us one on one.