Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem & Madness quickly became all the talk following its Netflix premiere this past spring, sparking massive interest with its leads, Joe "Exotic" Maldonado-Passage and rival Carol Baskin. But while viewers have created their own opinions on the "Tiger King," a former staff member of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park and face of the docuseries, Kelci "Saff" Saffery revealed exclusively to PopCulture.com what it was really like working with Maldonado-Passage for a decade.
"I tell everyone, 'You guys know Joe Exotic. I know Joel Schreibvogel,'" Saffrey said. "In my opinion, he's a very loud, he's a very proud, he's a very colorful man. But he's also very ambitious. Sometimes that was his demise. But I have seen this man do things that I didn't do myself. I've seen him give the shirt off his back [...] to someone because they needed it more. I have seen him spend the entire night before Thanksgiving cooking a homemade Thanksgiving meal to give out for free to the general public." Saffery noted the meal was something Maldonado-Passage did every single year for the 10 years he worked for the former zoo owner.
Maldonado-Passage is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence in a murder-for-hire plot targeting Baskin, in addition to violating the Endangered Species Act and falsifying wildlife records. Saffery said that although fans of the eight-part docuseries may have seen more "undesirable" parts of Maldonado-Passage, he has seen another side that viewers haven't been able to witness. "This documentary may have highlighted a lot of things that are very undesirable, but there's a lot that wasn't shown — and it doesn't make either/or less true — he is just as much Joe 'Exotic' as you guys have seen on that documentary, but he's also a man who loved and lost, a man who tried and failed, a man who never gave up and eventually, it took everything."
It was recently announced that Baskin was awarded the zoo, and with Maldonado-Passage behind bars, Saffery can't help but sympathize with his former boss considering he spent 30 years building the zoo and brand. "Being a man that's military, I do believe in the justice system. I have to. I'm not saying that I want to see that man spend 20 some odd years of his life behind bars [...] I have to fall back on my belief that the justice system will prevail," he said when asked his thoughts on the turnout of events.
"As far as Carol, I knew that she was going to get the zoo because she won that million dollar lawsuit with Joe — and we never had a million dollars in our pocket to give her, so it had to be paid in assets." He went on to say that, "I would have never guessed it would've played out like this," and while it makes him sad to see a man he worked with for almost a decade behind bars, Maldonado-Passage did make his own "decisions throughout life."
While the docuseries and cast has garnered much attention, Saffery is teaming up with Georgia-based law firm Bader Scott to raise awareness for workers who get injured while on the job — something close to his heart following his accident while working at the zoo. "Millions of Americans I'm sure get hurt on the job and a lot of — I feel — the issues with pursuing anything is that they're not sure if they can, or they're not sure if they have the means, or what [the] process is [like]." So Saffery teamed up with the law firm to educate viewers who may have had an injury while on the clock know they can receive help.