Newsweek's image of Tiger King
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Photo credit: Newsweek

I have a confession: I got sucked in. I’m the anti-mainstream. I rarely do anything “the crowd” does. Yes, I’m writing about Tiger King! YIKES! But…..hear me out on this….

After taking Bear on a 5-mile walk, well, she quit after 2 miles.  So, technically after finishing my 5-mile walk on Saturday morning, I knocked out seeding the yard, clearing old leaves and several other things outside.  It was beautiful, sunny and warm.  I didn’t really want to go inside but, the thunderstorm finally blew in and sent me running for the house.  After being at home for days, the house is basically spotless. I was getting stir crazy and needed something to do.

I was determined not to work on this, now, stormy Saturday afternoon.  What did I do? Something too many of us do when we are bored…. social…media… ugh.  I hopped on Twitter to see what’s trending and #tigerking was blowing up. Tiger King, it is! 

Tiger King Twitter Message
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Phone down. T.V. on.  Netflix.  Popcorn.  Bear on the couch. Push play on Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.  My Saturday was now booked.

What is Tiger King?

If you have not heard of Tiger King – then let me try to explain it.  Tiger King is a Netflix docuseries about the inner workings of big cat sell and trade in the U.S.  No, that’s not how I want to describe it. Let me try again to explain Tiger King. It’s a docuseries about a murder-for-hire plot, a missing husband, competing big cat zoos and sanctuaries, illegal trade of big cats, and some of the craziest cast of characters I’ve ever watched.

The Washington Post describes it this way, Tiger King,’ the shocking Netflix series that has captivated the Internet.  There are more twists and turns in this series than any other I can recall.  After finishing it, I felt like I needed a shower.  My stomach hurt because I was literally sick thinking about it all.  From the big cats to the crazy cast of characters.  It was like watching a plane crash, you do not want to look but, you cannot help it.  The worst part?  These people are real.

There were many parts and pieces that made me sad while watching Tiger King.  Seeing the cats locked in cages and not having enough food to feed them all.  Witnessing how horrible people can be towards each other. This is not a ‘Hero’s Journey’ story plotline, because there was NO hero.    

So, what inspired me to write this article about Tiger King?

There’s an important hidden story wrapped up inside of this horribly sad story of madness. 

What’s the hidden story?

Deep inside of this plotline is a hidden story about the power of our work.  Now, if you’ve watched it – stick with me on this. 

Three employees of Joe Exotic are primarily the voice of the zoo in “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”: John Reinke, Kelci “Saff” Saffery and Erik Cowie. All appear to be down on their luck and getting the job at Greater Wynnewood Animal Park changed their lives.  These loyal employees are paid $150.00 per week.  Yes, you read that right.  $150.00 per week to work with tigers, lions, and bears. 

Throughout this crazy series, we learn more about the staff at the zoo. Saff loses an arm in 2013 to a tiger and returns to work within 7 days. (I do not recommend this workplace policy!) John has 2 prosthetic legs from a ziplining accident and manages the zoo day-to-day while Joe records his beloved YouTube channel.

Tiger King Erik Cowie
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Tiger King’s Erik Cowie

I was particularly interested in Erik Cowie, Joe Exotic’s zookeeper.  Viewers first meet Erik in episode 1.  He’s interviewed outside in a lawn chair often smoking.  He is tall and lanky with long dirty blonde hair with a scruffy beard, at least one missing tooth, and sunglasses.  While looking for a job, Erik came across the Tiger King’s job posting on Craiglist.   

During Erik’s first on-screen interview, I could hear a sense of pride in this voice when he recalled getting the job as a zookeeper.  He starts with “I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it but, I was at the end of my ropes when I found this place on Craigslist. Wow.  I’ve never done this @#!@ before.  What the @!#$? Lets go! Now… look at me!  I’m doing tiger shows!

However, by the end of the series Joe– The Tiger King-Exotic’s entire world has crumbled and he’s facing jail time.  The filming crew interviews Erik in his home.  Clearly, intoxicated Erik talks about his time at the zoo and shares photos of himself and some of the tigers before passing out on the bed.  It was sad to witness.  As a viewer, you could sense as crazy as that zoo was, it was more than just a job to Joe’s employees. 

I could imagine the story Erik told himself.  “I’m worthless.  I am a loser.  Everyone was is right, I am a failure.  I’ll never amount to anything.” And his self-image completely changed when he became a zookeeper.  I’m not here to debate if he’s qualified, or if Joe’s a horrible person or if Carol is a hypocrite or any of the hundreds of debates that could come out of this series.

Sometimes What We Do Reflects Who We Are

Through all of this, I was reminded, for many of us, not all of us, we are directly connected to our work.  It helps to define us.  It often gives us a sense of worth.  A sense of value. It’s not always what we “do” but instead, sometimes reflects who we are.

As, organizations, we cannot take this lightly.  I’m certain, if you are reading this, you are not running a dangerous and toxic animal park out of your backyard and selling big cats on the black market while paying your employees $150.00 per week.  But – we do have human beings working with us.  Human beings that have sometimes told themselves a story, that they are not good enough.  They are not meant to have the promotion.  They don’t deserve a good job. 

This hidden story inside of a story of utter chaos and madness is about our connection, as human beings, to the work we do.  I believe everyone wants dignity.  Everyone wants to matter.  Everyone wants to feel valued.  WE have an opportunity to make our teams feel valued

Join the conversations!  Follow us at or Twitter @Stratavize or Instagram @stratavize or LinkedIN @Lauralee Hites or just email me at

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This